Authentic Travel Experience at the Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge Tenn.

The Little Pigeon River flows around the Old Mill Square in Pigeon ForgeMy favorite part of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a creaky old building called the Old Mill and an adjacent restaurant by the same name. Along with a pottery shop and iron forge, it makes up the Old Mill Square.

While other restaurants, shops and attractions come and go, the Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge is the heart of this community.

The old mill in pigeon forge tennesseeThis is where it all began. Other than air conditioning, paved streets and electric lights, this is exactly what Pigeon Forge looked like before the tourists came. That, of course, was before there was a national park, even before Dolly was a tune in her momma’s heart. 

Pigeon Forge is one of three gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited of our national parks. That would help explain why the Old Mill’s water wheel, lapping through the Pigeon River, is one of the most photographed mills of its kind in the country.

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An Authentic Travel Experience in Pigeon Forge

Admittedly, much of Pigeon Forge has been built to entertain the 11 million visitors who pass through the community each year. Miniature golf, go-carts, wax museums and music shows are all great attractions, but you can find them in literally every city in the United States.

Grinding corn at the Old Mill in Pigeon ForgeBut the Old Mill Square is the real deal. The mill dates to 1830 when William Lewis built a mill on the Little Pigeon River to grind flour from corn grown by local farmers. I found it interesting that during the Civil War, this part of Tennessee fought for the Union. The second floor was home to knitting looms for Union uniforms. The third floor was a hospital.

Grinding corn at the Old Mill in Pigeon ForgeThey tell the story that Dolly Parton’s daddy paid the doctor who delivered her with two bags of corn meal ground at the Old Mill. For generations, people used bags of corn meal ground at the Old Mill as a form of trade or currency.

The original grinding stone lasted until 1977. That would have been a logical time to update the system. But thankfully, the owners just got a new stone and kept on doing things like its always been done in Pigeon Forge.

Grinding Corn Meal at the Old Mill Square 

The outdated but effective system of ropes and pulleys turn gigantic granite stones, grinding the corn and wheat to various consistencies. The result will be used for corn bread, pancakes, biscuits and grits. On a good day, the mill produces more than 1,000 pounds of flour. Each little bag is filled, weighed and tied by hand in a special knot they call the Miller’s Knot.

Corn flour for sale at the Old Mill Square in Pigeon ForgeOne pound bags of the ground corn flour make wonderful souvenirs and authentic gifts from your visit to Pigeon Forge. If you’re like me, you’ll go nuts at the adorable little store adjacent to the mill.

So I loaded up my shopping basket and then grabbed some jellies that will find their way into my cupboards and under the Christmas tree.

The Restaurant at the Old Mill Square

Breakfast platter at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon ForgeI knew the flour would make good muffins because we had just enjoyed some with breakfast next door at the Old Mill Restaurant. Not as old as the mill itself, but with the same creaky wooden floors, the Old Mill Restaurant is renowned for its hearty southern cooking.

In recent years, the cooks have cut back a bit on the sodium and switched to trans fat free oils. The menu also includes quite a few more fresh vegetables, making a meal at the Old Mill a little friendlier for your heart and waistline.

Pecan pies sold at the Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge

My husband loves lunch at the Old Mill, particularly the pot roast, because they make real mashed potatoes, from real potatoes. Me, I’m a chicken fried steak fan. I particularly love the pecan pies, which are the best sellers of dozens of pies offered here.

The Pottery Shop at the Old Mill Square

Shelves of pottery at Pigeon Forge Pottery in the Old Mill Square

When you’re finished eating, waddle across the street to the Old Mill Pottery Shop. This, too, is an authentic experience. Back in the 1940s, a guy named Douglas Ferguson began playing around with the local red clay soil and realized it would make great pottery.

So he taught himself to spin a wheel and his wife Ruth opened a shop. For the better part of 50 years, they sold pottery from a little shop next to their home. That home is now a little cafe.

Black bear by Douglas Ferguson, Old Mill Square, Pigeon ForgeToday, the pottery shop is an inspiration for all things beautiful and handmade. Some of Douglas Ferguson’s molds are still in use at the shop. His black bear molds are particularly appropriate considering the large number of black bears that live in Smoky Mountain National Park. I bought this little guy as a gift for Bruce. It now sits on a table in our living room.

Explore Pigeon Forge from the Old Mill Square

The Old Mill Square includes a little ice cream shop, a couple of little stores and of course, the old forge that is almost as old as the mill itself.

The Old Mill Square is also the parking spot to catch the colorful trolleys that cruise along the strip. Visit all of the main attractions in Pigeon Forge without battling traffic and putting miles on your own vehicle. Because when 11 million people come to town, it gets just a bit crowded. Relax and let someone else do the driving.

Smoky Mountain Souvenirs