Mingus Mill is a historic and active Mill, located just a short distance past the Oconaluftee Visitors center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both the mill itself and the land surrounding the mill are beautiful. The mill is a popular stop for people traveling through the park, and especially for photographers.
The mill is located just off of Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road). There is a large parking area and restrooms, and Mingus Mill is just short walk down a trail from the parking lot.
The Mingus family moved into the Oconaluftee Valley in late 1700s. Most historians think that the existing mill, the one you can visit today, is the second mill on this site. The current mill was completed in 1886, and was one of the most advanced mills in the Smoky Mountains due to it’s use of a steel turbine design.
Mingus Mill was designed and built by Sion Thomas Early, an apprentice Millwright and native of Virginia. Early built built the mill in 3 months, at a total cost of $600.00. In 1968, the National Park Service fully restored Mingus Mill.
The Mill was the largest in the Smoky Mountains, and served over 200 families. Some of the families would bring their corn and wheat for more than 15 miles to have it ground at the mill.
Saturdays were traditionally mill days and the mill was very active with people bringing their wheat and corn to be ground, and others coming to the mill to purchase or barter for wheat and corn meal. Customers having their corn or wheat ground were required to pay a mill toll, about 1/8th of their grain. Customers deposited this grain into the toll box. The miller could then keep it or sell it to other customers.
Not only did Mingus Mill provide milling services, but the mill floor and grassy areas around the mill served as a primary area of commerce and social activity. People would gather and talk, sharing stories about their families and the “goings on” of the area. Customers also often struck barter deals, exchanging goods for goods or goods for services. Many mountain folk didn’t have cash, and thus bartering was a common currency in rural mountain life.
If you walk on past the mill, and along side the flume, you’ll find a trail at the end of the flume. Follow it up to Mingus Creek. There you’ll find a small dam that channels water into the millrace. The millrace is designed to channel water to the mill, and increase the waters speed as it slowly flows down hill. The millrace is lined with Hemlock boards.
Close to the mill, the millrace channels water into an elevated flume. Built into the flume is a flume gate that regulates the water flow. Excess water is channeled to the side and the resulting waterfall is a popular photo spot. Next, the water flows through a “chunk rack”, that filters off any leaves, sticks or large debris. A small box here also catches any sand in the water to keep it from reaching the turbine and damaging it.
At a height of 22 feet, the flume pours the water into the “penstock”, which is built right next to the mill. The penstock is a 4 foot square wooden shaft that is full of water from the flume. The penstock mains a constant 22 foot/pounds of water pressure. This water and water pressure is run into a metal pipe attached to the turbine housing, which contains the the metal turbine. The turbine has angled blades, causing the water to turn the turbine, which turns an attached metal rod that goes into the mill. The metal rod is used to turn the grinding stones, and also to power other equipment located on the third floor of the mill.
Given how old it is, the design and construction are pretty amazing. The turbine generates 11 horsepower, a significant amount for back then.
Mingus Mill is an operating mill located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Operating hours are 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM daily from mid-March through mid-November. The Mill is also open on Thanksgiving weekend.
During open hours, you can stop in, view the interior of the mill, and see the milling process in action, and even speak to the miller on duty. If you arrive early in the morning, you can also see the miller clean the leaves and debris out of “chunk rack”, which is at the top of the ladder on the flume. If you look closely in the very first photo in this article, you can see the miller cleaning the “chunk rack”. He’s standing up on top of the ladder.
You can purchase corn meal that is ground at the mill, along with a number of other “country” items for sale. The mill is a wonderful spot to take photos, but be there early to avoid having people in your photos. When we say early, we mean before 9:00am.
Here’s a great video showing all of the different portions of the mill, and the turbine and mill stones in action: