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The Old Mill strikes a distinct contrast against the amusement rides and T-shirt shops you’ll see on Pigeon Forge’s main drag. Likewise, the collection of Old Mill shops skips the standard souvenir stock for a mix of pantry favorites, distinctive kitchenware and handcrafted items that will serve as tasteful, if subtle, reminders of your trip to the mountains.
The mill is a real, operating gristmill that uses water for power. According to the City of Pigeon Forge, this is one of the oldest, continually operating grist mills in the country. The mill began grinding grains for local settlers in 1807. Alexander Hamilton died in his infamous duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, just to add some perspective. Tours of the mill are available and are worth the time just to see the massive size of the operation. (Last time I checked, tours were informal and free.)
The Old Mill General Store offers fresh-from -the-millstone pantry standards. You can take home a bag of cornmeal or white, unbleached flour. You could try something a little more exotic, like a bag of breading for fried green tomatoes. Not sure about fried green tomatoes? Don’t knock ‘em until you try ‘em…honestly, this is my favorite food. The Old Mill General Store also offers some great cookbooks you can take home with your grains to create southern dishes that will impress your friends. (Visit the mill’s website and you can sign up for free email recipes every month.)
Photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com
Shoppers will also find many items those 1807 shoppers would be looking for: cast iron cookware, jellies and jams, honey, flavored syrups and, for the 21th century shopper, you’ll find some useful utensils and, of course, a few souvenirs. MY FAVORITE: The bacon cooker, which looks like a big cup and saucer, cooks bacon in the microwave that tastes like it was just fried in the skillet.
Adjacent to the Old Mill General Store is the Old Mill Kitchen Store. If your kitchen needs it, you’ll find it here. Check out the aprons. You’ll be attracted to both the colorful patterns and the practicality of five or seven separate pockets. The store always has an array of pots and pans for the modern cook. Think Christmas in this shop. You’ll find unique gifts for any cooks or wannabe cooks on your list.
Now…my favorite store: Pigeon River Pottery. This is across the parking lot from the Old Mill. The quality of the pottery will make you feel like you’re in a museum. Let me be the first to warn you. This is not Wal-Mart or even Target. The prices are a little for most Pigeon Forge stores. A pie plate, for example, might set you back around $50. That pie plate is the only like it in the world AND you’ll pass it down to your daughter. Pieces are made on-site by very talented craftsmen who specialize in practical art. The store does have lower-priced items like coffee cups and the clearance rack is always full of interesting pieces.
Finally….everyone else’s favorite store: the Old Forge Distillery. This liquor store specializes in our local favorite, moonshine. You can stick to the original or branch out to apple pie or peach. How does coffee-flavored moonshine sound? (Not too good to me, but, as they say, to each his own.) If you’re interested in process or would like to try a few samples, call before you go. Tours and tastings can be arranged.
The shopping center also offers a new store featuring women’s clothing and accessories, an ice cream parlor and a candy kitchen
Address: 160 Old Mill Avenue, Pigeon Forge
Tips from locals: The City of Pigeon Forge reports that this mill is one of the most photographed in the nation, and it does provide a dramatic and rustic background. Save time for selfies or groupies. Remember that fellow tourists, locals and even employees usually oblige to take a more traditional photo of the whole family.
Parking: Park at Patriot Park. It’s about two blocks away and will save your possible hours of time looking for an on-premise space.
Feed the Ducks: This a great place to feed ducks and (what a coincidence) a duck food vending machine is right there. This might be a place for dad to take a breather with the kids while mom shops.
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