Chuck Childers – Miller of The Old Mill
Last year was my first time attending Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge TN. The Deer Hunter and I had a fantastic time. I wish I could attend again this year-it starts today May 9 and runs through May 13.
Although my schedule won’t allow me to visit the amazing week this year, there will be at least two Blind Pig readers there as presentations. Eva Nell Wilke and Mark Davidson will both be there-so if you’re able to make it, please look both of them up.
One highlight of last year’s trip for The Deer Hunter and I was getting to tour The Old Mill. The establishment has an amazing history.
Let me share a few of the history placards that can be found as you walk up the stairs to the entrance of the restaurant portion of the establishment.
“How Did Pigeon Forge get its name?
Before Pigeon Forge had a mill or a name this remote Smoky Mountains settlement had thousands of wild passenger pigeons, a handful of pioneer families, and an iron forge. There are no photographs of the forge. But, an illustration of the workings of the forge appeared on the menu of Butler’s Forge Hammer Restaurant.
Historians believe Cherokee Indians named the Little Pigeon River after the huge flocks of passenger pigeons that once gathered here. The forge was built in 1817, as settlers dug into the mountains’ rich stores of iron ore. The first official use of the name “Pigeon Forge” occurred as the community’s U.S. Post Office in 1841, housed in where else? The Old Mill.
R.I.P. The Passenger Pigeon
In Pigeon Forge’s early years, thousands of passenger pigeons lived in beech trees along the river. They ate beech nuts and farmers’ crops. Settlers throughout the young United States destroyed the pigeons’ nesting colonies and shot them without restraint.
As Pigeon Forge grew, the passenger pigeon population fell dramatically throughout the nation. By 1914, this once-abundant species was extinct. The world’s last passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo.
Forging the Future
The first non-Indians in this region were probably Virginia-born traders following the Great Indian Trail through the mountains to the Cherokee Nation. By the 1790s, settlers began moving in, drawn to this fertile mountain territory governed by Revolutionary War hero John Sevier. One early settler, a schoolteacher named Isaac Love, built the first forge.
In the 1820s, the Little Pigeon River supported three massive, smoking forges and a smelting furnace A waterwheel powered huge hammers that beat the iron into bars. The iron was then shaped into strong, durable frontier goods: heavy machinery, farm tools, door hinges, wagon wheels, kitchen utensils, horse shoes, and more.”
“Farming the Frontier
When The Old Mill opened for business back in 1830, it was the newest addition to the thriving Appalachian community of Pigeon Forge.
Local resident William Love built the mill near the iron forge run by his father Isaac. A grist mill in the town center meant farmers could get their corn and wheat milled only a few miles from home. While the grain was ground, farm families could catch up on the news, do their shopping, take care of business matters, or even take a refreshing swim in the mill pond.
By 1849, a new owner, John Sevier Trotter, bought the mill and forge. He and his son, William, ran both operations. William also served as the town postmaster.
Even as a devastating Civil War divided the nation, Pigeon Forge and Sevier County continued to grow and prosper. Businesses clustered around The Old Mill soon included farm supply stores, general merchandise stores, and a blacksmith shop. A water-powered sawmill replaced the obsolete iron forge. At least one local business a coffin–making shop profited from the inevitable needs of a maturing population.
For most 19th-century Pigeon Forge residents the rough, isolated frontier life in this part of the Appalachians gradually changed to a more comfortable, more connected small-town world. Then as now, The Old Mill was the center of community life.
For years, public notices, handbills, and items for sale were posted on the door of The Old Mill. During the Civil War, townspeople came to view the casualty lists posted there. Today, you can still see the rustic, handmade nail heads. “
Chuck Childers, the Miller of The Old Mill, gave us a personal tour. As he shared the interesting history of The Old Mill, he also shared his story with us. He said he felt like it was his life’s calling to be a Miller and that he felt very fortunate to have ended up at The Old Mill-how cool is that? Very cool if you ask me.
You can go here to watch a video of Chuck explaining the way the grist mill works and you can go here for more information about Wilderness Wildlife Week-which by the way is FREE and open to the public. If you live close enough to attend I highly encourage you to do so and if you do go-don’t forget to visit Mark , Eva Nell, and The Old Mill I know you’ll be glad you did.