Don’t you just love (someone else’s) drama? Or do you sometimes endure a little melodramatic flair from someone in your traveling party? After snuggling into the sofa of your Wears Valley cabin to relax and watch an exciting dramatic movie, why not make the storyline more personal, and take on some downhill action of your own making? There are plenty of hills in the Smokies to get you off the horizontal plane. Let’s look at over a dozen ways to head downhill: fast or slow, controlled or not, on purpose, just for fun.
While you are relaxing in your Smoky mountains cabin rental, make plans to absorb a small bit of history while exploring our area on vacation.
Historically, a gristmill was the central gathering place for most communities. Along with the service of grinding grain into meal or flour between grooved millstones, trade bartering for goods and services took place onsite. Social news and storytelling made the local grist mill the most interesting place to be on mill day, usually Saturdays.
There are four mills in the National Park that are easily accessed:
The John P. Cable Mill is powered by a wooden flume, ending in a classic overshot waterwheel at the millsite. Overshot wheels have spill over the top, suited for fast-flowing downhill mountain water. It is located in the picturesque Cades Cove community near Townsend, about 5.5 miles from the Cove area entrance. Cornmeal ground onsite is available for purchase in the visitor center.
The largest mill in the National Park is the Mingus Mill, located 3 miles outside of Cherokee, NC on 441/Newfound Gap Road, or approximately 30 miles from Gatlinburg, TN. This mill is unique as it is water-powered by a cast iron turbine, instead of a traditional waterwheel. Both of these mills have farm homestead museums created around them, from historic structures that were moved from various locations throughout the park area. Spending time here makes one realize how stalwart and strong-willed the mountain folk were to sustain themselves in their rugged home envrionment.
There are also two smaller, tub mills for viewing along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which begins at the end of Gatlinburg’s Airport Road/Historic Nature Trail, about 2 miles from the main Parkway, turning at the downtown Convention Center. These mini mills were small, but effective, for use by families and neighbors’ homestead needs. The Noah “Bud” Ogle Homestead is the the first major stop on the trail, and the Ogle mill is about a quarter-mile woodland trek from the cabin. The Alfred Reagan mill is also located on this trail, with its shed-sized building and flume at the Reagan homestead toward the end of the trail. There are multiple interesting historic sites and some scenic overlooks along this trail in addition to the mill locations.
If venturing into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is outside of your goals for this trip, there are two mills in Pigeon Forge:
The Old Mill Complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a destination location for visiting with surrounding restaurants and shops to explore. It is located one block off the main Parkway in the heart of Pigeon Forge. The 3-story mill structure was built in 1830, and its waterwheel and adjacent milldam are one of the most photographed mills in the nation. There is a guided milling operations tour available 9:30-1:30 Monday through Friday (except for lunch break). Tour fee is $3 for adults, $1.50 for children 6-12, and free for under 6 yrs. Milled items are available for purchase in the general store located here, and are also used for the menus in the complex’s restaurants, should you need immediate gratification.
The newest mill in our area is at the Dollywood theme park. The Dollywood Working Gristmill was built in 1982, the first of its kind built in over 100 years in the area, and created with the original construction techniques of its predecessors. So, not historic, but certainly authentic. The delicious cinnamon bread baked onsite here is well-known, and well worth the purchase price. Don’t plan on buying this as a gift, I promise you it won’t last, and you will wish you purchased more. One of the best treats to sample in the theme park, in my humble opinion.
Take in a little history of one of these interesting milling sites, and then take home as gifts some of the products created on location. A simple, timeworn, authentic piece of Sevier County history that’s good enough to eat!
Dollywood opens this season on Saturday, March 22. Let’s prepare before the family gathers by making a “what’s new” shortlist for you to visit at the theme park.
First, for the adults, hurry and enjoy the multiculturalism that is the always popular Festival of Nations. This year brings several new shows with a wide selection of music: Swiss yodeling and alphorn playing, South American harp music, Colombian, Celtic, Gaelic, and Russian music among others.
Most impressive and visually mesmerizing is the “Mother Africa” performance that has toured internationally before arriving at Dollywood. The show features music, dancing and acrobatics in traditional styles from across the entire African continent. Not just your average modern dance drumbeating, this is a true cultural experience that shouldn’t be missed.
My vote for most unusual musical performance is an Italian grand piano act with ballerina on top that will be driving its music throughout the park during the day. There’s so much more to the festival, like a miniature world showcase of art, music, dance and food (of course), from over 30 countries. My only regret is that it is short-lived: Festival of Nations ends April 21, so hurry to enjoy it all before it’s gone until next year.
Next, really fun for all, from grandfather to great-grandchild, is the new family roller coaster, the FireChaser Express. At top speed of 35 miles-per-hour, this firefighter-themed coaster is still mild enough for all to enjoy, but has a few twists (pun intended) to make even coaster fiends smile. The ride shoots forward and eventually pitstops in a fireworks shed, before “exploding” backwards for a shorter, but different backwards trajectory to end the ride in the original boarding station. If you have never ridden a coaster backwards, this is your chance to initiate your family to that unique thrill sensation. The only thing my young son didn’t like were the “hot flames” in the fireworks shed. Me? Let’s just say going both directions makes for some interesting windswept hairdos! No inverted loops or heartwrenchers here: just good, smooth family fun.
Spoiler alert: want to preview the ride before actually hitting the rails? View it animated online here:
For the smallest ones, there is a great new micro playground below the FireChaser, that brings back oversized Lego’s and a water play area that were features lost from the park with changes at the Owens Farm treehouse play area a few years back. It’s a delightful place to cool off in the heat. It is also very well-staffed to monitor for safety, which most playground-visiting parents can fully appreciate!
Please come and enjoy these new features for all at Dollywood, and stay with us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals while you are here. Our family would love to help yours enjoy the area as much as we do. We promise that once is not enough–join our group of repeat visiting friends soon! Book your visit today.