Old Mill 1886

Once the lifeblood of a community, the Old Mill — built in 1886 and located on the edge of the Qualla Boundary — offers history fostered by spirit and ingenuity. Comprised of three rooms from 1886, 1930s and 1950s, the mill’s authenticity is savored from the moment you enter the building. Fresh ground corn mill, hush puppies, grits, preserves, pickled beans, sugar-cured country ham, local cheeses and pie filling are just a few of the presented North Carolina merchandise that grace the shelves of the 1950s room.

Mill owner Noel Blakely offers a firm handshake as he points out his favorite preserve, blackberry butter. Handmade soaps and honey peek out from behind Blakely as he says “We try to keep it as local as possible.” One step to the right and you have entered the 1930s room otherwise known as the gift shop, where a mixture of antiques, jewelry, and other items are on display. Blakely began restoration of the mill in 2007 and reopened for business in the spring of 2008.

Keeping the original floors, old southern pine walls and rehabilitation of the bridge, Blakely is confident “she’ll go another generation.” Another step to the right and the original room from 1886 reveals four floors of authentic grinding apparatuses. The basement was a working floor and the second and the third floors stored grain equipment while chutes brought cornmeal to the grinders on the first floor. Proudly, Blakely pointed out the 1930s Indian Pottery sign which hung above while explaining how the mill works. “All working parts are original and have been left,” Blakely shared while noting the hand-carved standard beams.

Even though the last time the mill was up and running was in 1986, it’s been a safe haven for those unaware of new inventions. In 1911 a woman saw a car for the first time and thought it was the end of the world and shot at it from the red roofed grist mill, according to Blakely. While other stories surrounding the mill bring back memories of another time, Blakely is confident this building was a “major hub of enterprise in its day.”

The Jewel Hayes family built the mill almost two centuries ago with local labor, and the atmosphere is like a time capsule. Blakely estimates a quarter million people have been in the mill throughout its lifetime, and while he’s only been open for business less than a year, he’s had third and fourth generations come for a visit. “Every year we’ll be doing something to keep it up,” Blakely said. “My goal would be to see more people enjoy it, and with the direction we are headed that’s going to happen.”

Blakely’s family name is Smith, as his father was a blacksmith, and his great, great grandfather was a descendent of the Bear Meat family. Blakely is proud to be a part of the history of the Cherokee and the Great Smoky Mountains. The Old Mill 1886 is located South of Cherokee at 3082 US 441. The hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday thru Saturday. The mill is closed on Sundays. For more information call 828.497.6536 or visit www.cherokeemill.com.