In the early 1800’s, a water-powered gristmill on the banks of the Little Pigeon River became one of the main hubs of activity in the small mountain community of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. In those days, the mill faithfully produced the meals and flours that were crucial for the day-to-day existence of the Smokies’ early settlers. In fact, The Old Mill even furnished electricity for the town until 1935.
Isaac Love Builds an Iron Forge
In 1817, a businessman named Isaac Love built an iron forge on the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River. Love had inherited this pristine riverside property from his father-in-law and decided to take advantage of Tennessee’s tax incentives for the creation of iron works on unfarmable land. Isaac Love’s forge produced bars of iron, building equipment, and farming implements that were sold across the United States.
The Old Mill Makes Its Debut
In 1830, Isaac Love and his sons constructed a grist mill beside his iron forge. This mill became an important resource for local farmers, who used it to grind their grain into flour. When the community’s first post office was established at the grist mill in 1841, the burgeoning town received the name “Pigeon Forge,” taking inspiration from the iron forge on the Little Pigeon River. While the iron forge is no longer standing, The Old Mill is still in operation today and attracts over one million annual visitors.
One of The Old Mill’s most distinctive features is the giant water wheel that harnesses the flow of the Little Pigeon River. Inside the structure, an antiquated yet reliable system of shafts, belts, and pulleys still gets the job done, working to turn the 4600-pound stones and grain elevators.
Weighing one ton each, the massive flint granite stones, called French Buhrs, are only the second set ever used in The Old Mill’s 178-year history. When they’re in action, the stones convert grain into about 1000 pounds of product each day, six days a week. Resident millers then hand-fill, weigh and tie each bag of stone ground grain.
Products ground at The Old Mill are used in many of the dishes at The Old Mill Restaurant including biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, hush puppies, muffins and grits. We also use our own grains for the homemade artisan style breads that are prepared each day at The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille .
The area’s heritage is also being preserved through a variety of crafts that are practiced at the nearby shops of The Old Mill Square. Our Pigeon River Pottery has been home to pottery making for over 50 years, and the best of time-tested recipes are prepared by our confectioners (with decades of experience among them) in The Old Mill Candy Kitchen. The entire Square is a working tribute to the Smokies’ pioneer days.
Today, The Old Mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and just as in the 19th century, it’s still one of the most popular places in the Smokies and one of the most photographed mills in the country.