The Old Mill

 

I’ve been fascinated with grist mills ever since I watched one in operation for the first time. I was a rookie reporter for my hometown newspaper in Mississippi, and had heard about a farmer in a rural community outside of town who’d restored his granddaddy’s long-dormant mill. Once he got it working again, the community revived its tradition of gathering on Saturday mornings to socialize while the sacks of dried corn they’d brought from their fields was ground into cornmeal and grits.

I showed up there one “Grind Day” with a pad and pen, chatted with the farmers, and took home a sack of the fragrant, fresh-ground meal – along with a stack of recipe cards written out by the farmer’s wife and her church friends with instructions on how to use it. I made some of the most delicious cornbread I’d ever tasted, and wrote a story about it – one of the first stories with recipes I ever had published.

Last year, I discovered another grist mill.

The director of The Old Mill at Pigeon Forge, a cluster of family-owned businesses in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, was looking for someone to help them refine their brand and get their message out to a new generation of guests. She called to see if I might be able to help. By this time, I had been out of the newspaper business for almost a decade and was writing cookbooks and exploring other opportunities to use my storytelling skills.

Until then, I associated Pigeon Forge with the Wonder Wheel at Dollywood. I knew nothing about the massive ancient water wheel on the Little Pigeon River that’s powered the grist mill from which the town grew 200 years ago. I was intrigued.

Shortly after. I took the scenic backroads to meet the folks dedicated to protecting this well-preserved gem, just a few blocks from the life-size King Kong replica clinging to the side of a wax museum on the main thoroughfare. I was charmed by their hospitality and impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of their products.

And I fell in love with their story and mission.

Like that tiny mill that had made such a big impression on me so many years earlier, The Old Mill serves as a source of both sustenance and social life – and has throughout its existence. Its head miller showed me how the giant stones grind hundreds of pounds of grain daily. They then bag the fresh meal and flour by hand to sell online and in a general store, and supply the two bustling restaurants, a bakery, candy store, and creamery where everything’s baked from scratch. Artisans make beautiful pottery on the premises, and a craft distiller is producing fine small-batch whiskeys, flavored moonshines, and other spirits.

The Old Mill has received national recognition for their preservation efforts. And they get plenty of business from the steady stream of tourists passing through en route to a theme park or an outlet mall. Yet travelers seeking authentic culinary experiences often pass it by.

I am honored to be on board as an editorial advisor and consultant to try to change that. I am now working with a top-notch creative team to re-tell The Old Mill story with new content, a revitalized website, smartly utilized social media tools, and a clearly defined purpose designed to not only raise The Old Mill’s visibility beyond its current customer base, but also provide an invaluable roadmap to the brand’s future for generations to come.

Stay tuned to The Old Mill as we go through the process. We are going to get the word out to a wider audience and show and how The Old Mill’s story fits into the unending Southern conversation.

 

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