Our Old Mill

History In The Making

Our Story Through The Decades

Millstones & Milestones

The Old Mill’s story began nearly two centuries ago when local farmers with sacks of grain traveled to the newly built gristmill along the Little Pigeon River. Those trips to the mill resulted in meal and flour for cooking, and they also were opportunities to socialize and build community. In time, our town of Pigeon Forge was born.

Today, the Old Mill is one of the oldest continually operating gristmills in the country and one of the most photographed mills in America. We invite you to look through our unique history.

HISTORY OF THE OLD MILL
  • A westward-moving settler, Mordecai Lewis, leaves Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and settles in East Tennessee. John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, encouraged Virginians such as Lewis to come to this area following the Revolutionary War. In 1794, he was appointed Coroner of Sevier County as well as a Justice of the Peace.

  • Lewis makes his home along what we now know as the Little Pigeon River after receiving a land grant from Governor Blount, where he acquired a total of 151 acres along the river. His grandson would later build and operate the first gristmill.

  • Issac Love, the son-in-law of Mordecai Lewis, inherits the land after Lewis’s death and builds an iron forge along the west branch of the river. It was a logical setting for a forge. Iron ore was found in the hills, timber could be burned to create charcoal to fuel the fires, and the river was a source of unending power for the large hammer. Seeing the glow from distant hills and ridges, locals would say “The fires of hell could not burn brighter or hotter.”

  • Issac Love’s son, William, and brothers build the Lewis Mill, named after their grandfather, to grind corn. Their craftsmanship included materials such as Tulip poplar (now the state tree of Tennessee), heart of pine, and hemlock, which is naturally impervious to decay.

  • William Love is appointed postmaster, and the first post office is located inside the mill. The community “Pigeon Forge” was born, named by Love after the passenger pigeons that would roost in the trees along the river during their southern migration and his father’s iron forge.

  • The Mason jar is invented and with its metal screw on lid transforms the way the home cook can store and preserve food. The jars are easy to use and reusable. They become a favorite with the local moonshiners, too!

  • John Sevier Trotter becomes the second owner of the mill and iron forge and adds a saw mill to his operation. He mills the lumber for a new, narrow covered bridge known as Trotter’s Ford that crosses the Little Pigeon River by the mill. Seven bridges would be built throughout the county.

  • The Civil War begins. Tennessee is the last state to secede from the Union. East Tennessee, in particular, was split between the Union and Confederacy. The mill owner, John Trotter, was a Unionist, and on the second floor of his mill, he sets up secret knitting looms to produce clothing for Union soldiers based in the Gatlinburg area. There was also a makeshift hospital on the third floor. The Old Mill is listed on the Civil War Trail of Tennessee.

  • Mother Nature in the form of a flash flood damages the mill by washing the water wheel down river and destroys Trotter’s bridge. The community responds by building a new steel bridge in its place.

  • The mill adds a water turbine to turn the stones and provide more power because of increased production. Roller mills are soon added to grind wheat into flour.

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