- [S106] The Mountain Press, 19 Dec 2010.
Upland Chronicles: Old Mill remains big draw to visitors
by BRANDON BARNES The Mountain Press
The Old Mill is not only one of the most photographed places in Sevier County, but it is also one of the most photographed mills in America.
Many people believe progress for the sake of progress is natural and needed for a community and its people to flourish.
However, if we take the time to listen to the echoes of the past, history will tell us a different story as we will see how progress should be pursued when the community has eminent needs, whether those needs are caused by an increase in population or a breakdown of infrastructure, both of which must be met.
As it stands, Sevier County has progressed greatly over the years from a small, mountain community into a thriving tourist destination with millions of visitors each year. Through this change, dirt roads have become paved streets while many other roads have transformed into major highways and detours throughout our cities and county.
Looking at the development of Sevier County, there is a place that defines progress while maintaining local heritage in a unique way over the years: The Old Mill.
Located off of Old Mill Avenue, a road connecting the Parkway in Pigeon Forge to Teaster Lane, the Old Mill has borne witness to many historical events while facing its own share of challenges, changes and progress.
The land where The Old Mill sets was originally part of a 151-acre tract owned by Mordeicah Lewis, who had built the mill in Pigeon Forge in 1795. In 1816, Mr. Lewis passed away and Isaac Love purchased the tract from his heirs. In 1817, with the purchase of the land finalized, Mr. Love began the process of constructing a bloomary forge, which is a blast-type furnace.
Love’s bloomary forge converted the Brown hematite ore mined throughout Sevier County and East Tennessee into molten and malleable iron. Once this process was complete, the malleable iron was then transformed into bars of iron. When the Manufacturer’s Census was completed in 1820, Isaac Love was the sole owner of the only iron forgein Sevier County.
Around 1841 Alexander Preston came into ownership of the tract, though the land would only remain in his possession eight years as Mr. Preston passed away and his heirs sold the tract in 1849. The new owner, John Sevier Trotter, constructed a sawmill and also built his flour and grist mill on a pre-existing foundation he found on the tract.
While this flour and grist mill is today known to the people of Pigeon Forge and Sevier County as The Old Mill, the two mills were commonly referred to, collectively, as Trotter’s Mills whereas his flour and grist mill was known during Mr. Trotter’s ownership simply as The Pigeon Forge Mill.
For many decades, John Sevier Trotter and his son, George Wesley Trotter, operated the properties along with two other employees. Located on the east bank of the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River, the mill was in a great position to use the river as a means to grind wheat into flour and corn and rye crops into grain. The wooden water wheel of the mill, which measured at 11 feet tall and 5 feet wide produced 30 hp in its 60 rpm. The wooden wheel, itself, was of the American Action & Reaction type.
Ironically, John Travena, the gentleman who constructed the American Action & Reaction Wheel for the mill, had relocated to Sevier County from England in the late 1860s.
Along with the Pigeon Forge Mill, John Sevier Trotter also operated a forge which featured one bloomary forge and one hammer driven by water which produced two tons of iron bars.
It could be said that Trotter’s properties had an impact on Pigeon Forge and Sevier County’s development; however, the forge and the mills had other important contributions to Pigeon Forge’s progress which would be greatly needed following Civil War reconstruction as well as the floods of 1867 and 1875.
While reconstruction affected much of the south, these floods decimated many Sevier County homes, businesses and bridges. For example, the floods greatly damaged on the Harrisburg Covered Bridge and destroyed the Trotter Covered Bridge while also causing some injuries to Trotter’s mills.
Today, we can still see and traverse the still functioning Harrisburg Covered Bridge as it has been repaired and reconstructed many times over the years to remain as a traditional covered bridge. Sadly, the bridge formerly known as Trotter’s Covered Bridge was rebuilt, but not as a covered bridge.
Following the floods and reconstruction, it was only time before more progress would be needed. With J.A. Householder as operator of the mill and D.M. Householder as manager, The Pigeon Forge Mill would contribute much more to the community as the Pigeon Forge Power and Light Co. set up a plant at the mill in 1921. For the next nine years, the site produced electricity for the Pigeon Forge area until The Tennessee Public Service Co. extended power lines to Pigeon Forge in 1930.
It was during 1930 that the mill would change ownership as A.D. Martin, who had held a position with the Little River Lumber Co. for 15 years, purchased new machinery and repaired the property along with assistance from his sons, G.R. Wiley and Frank. With new ownership came a new name for the mill: The Pigeon Forge Milling Company.
At this time of change, Sevier County and the rest of America were in the early years of the Great Depression. The economic breakdown hit every aspect of business and would eventually lead to the Pigeon Forge Milling Co. falling into bank receivership.
It was during these years that mill operations failed; however, it is always during the darkest hours some small, good thing happens. While the Great Depression had struck America hard, it was in 1933 that Knoxville native Fred Walter Stout purchased the mill. The mill would remain in his family with his daughter and son-in-law, Kathy Simmons and Robert Simmons, operating the mill until 1996.
While Stout and his family owned the mill, its heritage and history earned it a listing on the National Register of Historic Places on June 10, 1975 giving it the distinct honor of being the only property in Pigeon Forge to be awarded the honor.
Although the mill changed ownership in 1996 to Ben Frizzell and A.B. Blanton Jr., it has continued to operate and serve as a treasure to both Pigeon Forge and Sevier County.
Though Sevier County and Pigeon Forge have faced many challenges and changes over the years, the success of The Old Mill is something we can all respect and be thankful for, especially seeing as how it has survived and served as a true instrument to the progress of Pigeon Forge throughout its rich and storied history.
Today, The Old Mill, as well as The Old Mill Square and its businesses, continue to serve not only as an attraction to both locals and tourists from all walks of life but also as a place where history is preserved.
As this year winds down and Pigeon Forge enters into its 50 year anniversary of incorporation, we should all take a moment to celebrate the decades of success The Old Mill has maintained. Not only does the history of The Old Mill illustrate how progress and change can forge an area into a great piece of historical importance, it also shows us how progress is done properly when needed most.
— Brandon Barnes is a Sevier County native and an aspiring writer who currently serves as a special events coordinator for the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism and Office of Special Events. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or e-mail to email@example.com; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, family 520, page 423a, line 31, 23 Sep 1850.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 312.