Mingus Mill, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a historic and active grist mill, located just a short distance past the Oconaluftee Visitor center near Cherokee North Carolina.
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.
Mingus Mill Details
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM daily from mid-March through mid-November.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near the Oconoluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee NC
Roundtrip Distance: 200 yards
Handicap Accessible: Yes, with assistance. Bathrooms are handicap accessible as well
Dog Friendly: No
Historic and operating grist mill, creekside views. You can purchase corn meal ground at the mill.
From the Oconoluftee Visitor Center, head north into the Park on Highway 441. At exactly 1/2 mile, turn left into the Mingus Mill Parking area. The very short trail to the mill is located next to the restrooms
Mingus Mill History
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 its use of a steel turbine design.
Mingus Mill was funded by Dr. John Mingus, and 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.
Dr. John Mingus is buried nearby, in the Mingus-Floyd Cemetery, that is accessible to the public.
From the Mingus Mill entrance, turn left to head north on Highway 441. In about a minute, park at the very first gravel pull-off you see on the right. Walk north along Highway 441 from the pull-off, until you reach the speed limit side on the opposite side of the road. Behind the speed limit sign, you will see what remains of an old road up to the cemetery, marked by two large stones. It's short walk up the cemetery above the road.
Just be VERY careful crossing Highway 441, as it's very busy.
Is Mingus Mill Haunted?
While there are always rumblings of various locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park being haunted, we have heard no "credible" stories of Mingus Mill being haunted. But you never know ...
Mingus Mill Cemetery
While many believe there is only one Mingus Mill Cemetery, there are actually three different cemeteries near Mingus Mill:
Located just off Highway 441 a short distance from Mingus Mill and is where Dr. John Mingus resides.
Directions: From the Mingus Mill entrance, turn left to head north on Highway 441. In about a minute, park at the very first gravel pull-off you see on the right. Walk north along Highway 441 from the pull-off, until you reach the speed limit side on the opposite side of the road. Behind the speed limit sign, you will see what remains of an old road up to the cemetery, marked by two large stones. It's short walk up the cemetery above the road.
Mingus Family Cemetery
Located in the middle of the woods, about 2.5 miles up Mingus Creek Trail. Many members of the Mingus family, who worked at the mill are buried here.
Directions: Take Mingus Creek trail about 2.5 miles, and turn onto a smaller unmaintained trail which leads to the cemetery. The trailhead for Mingus Creek Trail is at the end of Mingus Mill parking lot.
Mingus Mill Slave Cemetery
Many don't know this, but The Mingus family, like many wealthy people at the time in the Smoky mountains, owned slaves who worked at the mill. The slave cemetery is just off the parking lot from Mingus mill, and contains a number of unmarked graves, with just header and footer rocks.
The rocks often have upside down coins on them. This is common for slave graveyards or cemeteries. Slaves from West African believed the underworld is upside down from our world. Coins left upside down, are a sign that you visited and paid respect. The coins also pay "the ferry man" to get departed souls into the afterlife.
Directions: At the trailhead for Mingus Creek Trail (at the end of Mingus Mill parking area), you will see a small unmarked trail going up the hill to the right. The trail will lead you up the cemetery that is literally maybe 100 foot from the parking area.
How Mingus Mill Works
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.
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 Today
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.
Mingus Mill Corn meal
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.
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.
Mingus Mill Trail
At the far end of the parking lot is Mingus Trail, that takes you along side Mingus Creek, back into the woods behind Mingus Mill. There are several bridge crossings, and some beautiful forest back there. If you hike the 2.5 mile out, you'll find Minus Cemetery mentioned earlier in this article.
Photo Credits: Mill Interior - turcottes, Turbine - Jaci Starkey - All other photos, Blue Ridge Mountain Life, LLC