Visiting the Cable Mill in Cades Cove

A Day Away by Mike Steely

You may have visited Cades Cove many times but there’s probably something you didn’t know about the old mill at the center of the loop road there.

The large cove nestled at the base of the Smoky Mountains contains many structures and former homes of earlier settlers, but there’s one that was the hub of commerce and socializing that is noteworthy: the Cable Grist Mill.

Cades Cove was named after Cherokee Chief Kade. The tribe called the cove “Otter Place” and soon after a treaty was signed, Hugh Dunlap settled there. Several families called the cove home including John Cable who built the mill in 1867. It provided settlers with a place to make flour for bread and to cut lumber. The farmhouse near the mill was built from lumber from the mill.

About 700 people lived in the cove area and the mill was the center of public gatherings, especially on Saturdays. Water was diverted from the creek to the overshot mill. The grinding stones on the mill are original and still used more than 150 years later. At one time there were other mills but the Cable Mill is the only survivor.

The Great Smoky Mountain Association runs the mill each year through October. You can watch the mill grind corn and then buy freshly ground cornmeal to take home with you.

My wife and I visited Cades Cove and the mill recently and watched children playing in the stream. The sluice that carries the mill water starts far above and uses gravity to bring the water down. There’s an 11- foot “overshoot” water wheel. The water strikes the top of the wheel, turning the wheel and powering the grinding wheel inside. The mill got a new water wheel in recent years.

Near the mill are the Cades Cove visitor center, restrooms, a large open farmhouse, a smokehouse, other outbuildings and a cantilever barn. The parking lot on weekends is usually full and there are handicapped parking spaces. As you round the loop you’ll find a campground off to the right as well as the large picnic area, where a stream flows by the tables. My wife and I often stop there to picnic in the shade and listen to the creek flow by us.

On your way back you might want to stop at some of the historic country homes along the loop road but watch for slow traffic, especially when wildlife is active. Coming back toward Knoxville you can stop at two welcome and visitor centers in Townsend or the railroad museum. The little community also sports convenience stores and several good restaurants and campgrounds.

You can find Cades Cove and the Cable Mill online or you can also call the Visitor Center at (865)-436-7318.