HISTORIC MILLS OF THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens In the days before Amazon and Walmart, mills and covered bridges played an important role for rural communities in the southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas Ozark's.  

The mills were a special place for commerce and social gatherings and provided essential services such and grinding their corn harvest into meal.

A trip to the mill was a big deal because many of the people at this time might have gone months without seeing a neighbor.

There were hundreds of mills spread across the Ozark's, where they were situated in the most scenic valleys in order to harness the power of moving water. 

Now, only remnants of the mills remain, so I am photographing them with my historic dry plate camera from the 1880's and making handmade archival platinum and palladium prints so generations in the future can see these amazing pieces of American history before they are gone forever.

1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens 1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens 1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens

NOTE: This page is being actively updated as I visit each mill location and make the handmade platinum prints.  You can follow along with me by subscribing to my Free Darkroom Diary where I provide weekly updates on the current state of the project and my latest prints that I am working on.

ABOUT MY PROCESS

1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens1889 Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co. 5x7 View Camera with Dallmeyer No. 2 Stigmatic Series II F6 Lens I use a historic 1889 Eastman Dry Plate Camera made by the founder of Kodak while he was in London before coming to New York to create the Kodak film and camera company that we know today.    

This all original camera and lens uses hand poured glass plate negatives to make the exposures. 

I later develop each plate in my darkroom so I can use them to make my archival platinum and palladium prints of the mills.

My historic camera renders light in a way that is impossible to duplicate by modern digital cameras.  When you hold one of my historic Ozark Mill platinum prints in your hands it is like you are transported back to the 19the century.

Hodgson Mill Silver Gelatin Dry Plate Ordinary Emulsion ISO 2 by Tim LaytonHodgson Mill Silver Gelatin Dry Plate Ordinary Emulsion ISO 2 by Tim Layton I start the process by hand cutting glass plates to the proper size for my camera and preparing them for accepting a light sensitive silver gelatin emulsion.

The preparation process includes sanding the edges of the glass plates, filing a notch on one side so I know which side of the plate holds the emulsion, and then I use a subbing process where I chemically clean each plate and apply a gelatin and hardening solution to help the forthcoming silver gelatin emulsion stick to the plate.

Then, in my darkroom laboratory, I create an 1880's light sensitive silver gelatin emulsion from raw materials and chemicals using the exact same formulas as the 19th century photographers. The glass prep and emulsion making spans over 2 to 3 days.    

Once the emulsion is tested and ready to go, I then coat each plate by hand with the light sensitive silver gelation emulsion that I made in the lab.  This emulsion is the same type that was used during the 1870's and 1880's.  It is only sensitive to blue and UV light as compared to full sensitivity of modern black and white film. 

8x10 Large Format Pure Platinum Print of Klepzig Mill by Tim Layton8x10 Large Format Pure Platinum Print of Klepzig Mill by Tim Layton Once the plates are fully cured and dried, I load them into my camera's plate holders before heading out to the field and photographing each mill the same way they would have in the 19th century. 

As you can see, it is a lot of work and effort in order to have the opportunity to spend time in the field and photograph the mills.  I enjoy the entire process and benefit from the slower and contemplative workflow. 

After exposing each plate, I return to my darkroom and develop each plate individually under red safelight in darkroom chemicals used for developing film and plates. 

After the plate dries over night, I can then use the glass plate negative to make an archival platinum and palladium fine art print that can last for thousands of years.

CABLE MILL

In the early 1870s when John Cable built his mill at the west end of Cades Cove, it was surrounded only by his fields. Like most farmers with gristmills, Cable's milling was a part-time job. Although the mill was open for business on specific days, customers who came at other times could ring a large bell near the mill when they wanted to call John Cable from his fields. Today, Cable Mill has a visitor center plus the Gregg-Cable House and several farm buildings which were moved in from other parts of the cove.

Between the 1850s and 1870s when Cades Cove was at its population peak, four or five mills served its 700 residents. They were powered by water, except for the steam-powered Ledbetter mill, a late-comer built in the early 1920s.

Between the 1850s and 1870s when Cades Cove was at its population peak, four or five mills served its 700 residents. They were powered by water, except for the steam-powered Ledbetter mill, a late-comer built in the early 1920s.

Cable Mill's power comes from Mill Creek, although Cable dug a connecting channel to Forge Creek so that when water levels were low he could tap both streams. A low dam channels water toward the head of the millrace where the first of several water gates allows the miller to regulate the flow of water. The last water gate, on the flume, can be operated by a long lever from within the mill.

Where millrace meets flume, a chunk rack works like a giant wooden comb to keep debris from entering the 235 foot flume, which is braced every few feet to keep the wood from warping. Water in the ground-level flume races along on a slight downward slope until the end, where it angles sharply down to where the mill and its adjacent waterwheel stand. The flume ends at the crest of Cable Mill's wooden waterwheel which rises vertically against the side of the mill. Water from the flume continually drops onto the wheel's buckets, the pressure and weight of the water driving the forty-some buckets downwards, one after another, turning the wheel.

Eleven feet high and five feet wide between its rims, the Cable waterwheel is a classic overshot wheel suited to fast mountain streams. Undershot wheels, used on slow, flat-water rivers of the lowlands, turned as water flowed past the bottom of the wheel. Much more energy efficient, overshot wheels took advantage of mountain streams plunging down steep grades.

Cable Mill, a two-story structure about one-fourth the size of Mingus Mill, consists of an 18- by 20 foot room divided in two: an open space at ground level where customers waited with their grain and a raised platform holding the mill equipment. Beneath the main floor, an unfinished basement houses the gears that move energy from the waterwheel to the millstones. A warming hut used to sit close to the mill so that in winter customers could wait for their meal or flour in relative comfort.

Also missing is the small sawmill that stood nearby and was also powered by water from Mill Creek. Probably no bigger than the gristmill building, the lumber mill used a six-foot sash saw to cut boards for homes, barns, and other buildings. Inside Cable Mill, wheat stones once stood on the millstone platform. What remains are the corn stones which were most vital to the food supply of any rural household in the Smokies.

To grind the vital corn, the power of Cable Mill's water wheel is transferred to the millstone through a series of six gears. One is a bevel gear that changes the direction of rotation from horizontal to vertical. The others are successively smaller gears to turn the millstone faster so that one rotation of the water wheel equals 35 rotations of the millstone.

Although five of the six gears have been replaced by metal, all were originally made of apple wood which is hard enough to hold an edge without cracking. Millers kept the gears greased with beef tallow, the longest-lasting animal fat.

When water hits the overshot wheel at full surge, Cable Mill can produce three bushels (150 pounds) of meal per hour. As the waterwheel turns, its voice as soothing as the sound of running water, the miller pours corn into a two foot square hopper. The hopper drops kernels into a "shoe," a narrow chute that feeds the corn through a hole in the top millstone.

The corn falls between the grooved millstones and is sheared into meal as the top millstone rotates above the stationary bottom stone. By turning a threaded metal rod, the miller can raise or lower the top millstone by a few thousandths of an inch, customizing the grind from coarse cracked corn to fine, floury meal.

Driving Directions:

John P. Cable Grist Mill in Cades Cove:
From Townsend TN, stay on E. Lamar Alexander Parkway until it dead ends (3.5 miles); turn right at Laurel Creek Road and go 7.6 miles where you will go directly into the Cades Cove entrance. The mill is about 5.5 miles from that point.

From Gatlinburg TN, enter the National Park from the Parkway (the main street) in Gatlinburg. Turn right at Sugarlands Visitor Center. Travel 13 miles to the Wye (swimming hole) in Townsend. Continue straight 7.6 miles where you will go directly into the Cades Cove entrance. The mill is about 5.5 miles from that point.

From Pigeon Forge, TN, take Wears Valley Road (traffic light #1) for 15 miles. Turn left on E. Lamar Alexander Parkway until it dead ends (3.5 miles); turn right at Laurel Creek Road and go 7.6 miles where you will go directly into the Cades Cove entrance. The mill is about 5.5 miles from that point.

MINGUS MILL

The Mingus Mill we see today is nestled among trees, but, in its heyday, the mill was surrounded by cleared fields and crops. Although the Mingus family, who moved into the Oconaluftee Valley in the 1790s, probably built an earlier mill on this site. The present structure was completed in 1886. The family paid $600 to millwright contractor Sion Thomas Early to build the mill in three months. The mill's distinction was its metal turbine, an improvement on the traditional wooden waterwheel that made Mingus Mill one of the most advanced in the Smokies.

Mill Days were usually Saturdays. During winter, the open floor of Mingus Mill was crowded with customers. When the weather was warm, customers gathered outside, one person telling that his daughter-in-law finally has her baby, another making a deal to trade chickens for a nearly new axe head. Barter was an important currency of rural life, although people paid cash for kerosene, sugar, coffee, cloth, and other items. Those with no money bartered their services; sewing, construction labor, etc.

At a time when generations mixed more, children and adults enjoyed socializing at the mill. The Dutch door at the front of Mingus Mill let in air and light but prevented children and their dogs from running in and out. A woodstove in one corner kept the miller and his customers warm in winter. At the back third of the building, millstones for corn and flour sit atop a raised platform with a short set of stairs leading to each.

Mingus Mill was also the largest mill in the Smokies, serving about 200 families, with customers coming from as far as 15 miles away. Usually it was the men who rode to the mill, but, if they were too busy with farm work, they might send a youngster

Millers rarely asked widows to pay the grain toll. Everyone else, however, deposited one-eighth of the grain they brought to mill (approximately a gallon per bushel) into a large toll box. The miller could keep his toll grain or sell it to others, usually as flour or cornmeal.

A person heading downstream along Mingus Creek would first see the low dam that funnels water from the creek into the millrace. Millraces direct water to the mill's waterwheel or, in this case, the turbine. Lined with rot-resistant hemlock, the four foot wide millrace is fitted with a water gate to regulate the flow.

The millrace channels water into the 200 foot long wooden flume that rides high atop a bridge of log cribbing. A water gate on the flume regulates flow, a "chunk rack" holds back leaves, twigs, and other debris, and a box in the bottom of the flume catches sand that could ruin the turbine.

As the ground drops below it, the flume eventually stands 22 feet high where it meets the mill's penstock. Fit next to the back wall of the mill, the penstock is a four foot square, vertical wooden shaft filled with water from the flume. The penstock's 22 feet of constant water pressure creates enough force to produce 11 horsepower, a bragging amount for its time and comparable to the power of a small lawn tractor.

The housing for the turbine is a metal globe about two feet in diameter. Within spins a drum-shaped frame-fitted with angled blades. As the penstock water hits it, the ring of blades turns at a maximum of 400 revolutions per minute. This energy turns a metal rod that rises into the mill, turning the millstones and all other mechanical equipment to the mill.

Inside, the mill is airy and spacious. Its simple lines and plain face belie the careful attention to detail that Mr. Early put into his work. Of course, in those days, fine white dust from cornmeal and flour covered most surfaces.

Corn was ground on the spot and returned to the customer's sack. The miller could grind more than six bushels (about 350 pounds) per hour. Wheat, too, was ground for waiting customers or, for a small fee, customers could store wheat on the mill's third floor. The second floor of the mill was devoted to sifting meal and flour and to cleaning wheat.

Wheat kernels were dumped into a hopper on the ground floor and conveyed to the second floor in little cups attached to a pulley-driven belt. Then the fan on a small smut machine blew chaff and dust off the wheat, expelling the trash to the outside via a duct. the clean wheat dropped back down to the first floor to be ground into flour. Both the belt and the smut machine were powered by the mill's water-driven turbine.

Although the corn stories were cut from Smoky Mountain granite, Mingus Mill's wheat stones are quartz buhrstones imported from France. The hard quartz held an edge longer and could shear the hull off wheat more cleanly than native stone.

Belts conveyed ground wheat back to the second floor where a chute fed the flour into a bolting chest. A finely crafted wooden box, the chest stands eight feet high, eight feet wide, and twenty feet long. Essentially, it is a long sifter, producing four grades of flour.

Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM daily mid-March through mid-November. Also, open Thanksgiving weekend.

Driving Directions:
From Gatlinburg TN enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Sugarlands Visitor Center (2.6 miles from the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg). Travel 30 miles on Hwy 441 (Newfound Gap Road) to Mingus Mill.

 

REAGAN MILL

Sitting alongside Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Reagan Mill is a good example of the tub mills that once dotted streamsides all over the Appalachians. Tub mills were ideally suited to mountainous terrain because they captured energy from relatively low volume, high velocity streams. A little larger than a good-sized outhouse, they easily fit along narrow stream banks.

These mini-mills were so popular that as many as 14 once lined Gatlinburg's LeConte Creek. A tub mill like Reagan Mill could produce about a bushel of cornmeal a day.

Alfred Reagan, who built the mill in 1895, farmed for a living; however, he was also accomplished in other areas. He had a blacksmith shop and a store and served as a preacher and a carpenter.

Driving Directions:
In downtown Gatlinburg turn onto Historic Nature Trail. Travel 2.2 miles to the entrance of Cherokee Orchard Road. This driving trail is a one-way road which runs for 8 miles. You will find Reagan Mill at the end of the trail.

 

OGLE MILL

At the Noah "Bud" Ogle Place on Cherokee Orchard Road, a serene quarter-mile walk leads past the rock walls of a former pasture to the Ogle tub mill. Now hidden among trees next to LeConte Creek, the mill was part of the Ogle farmstead which included a house, barn, orchard, garden, and a "weaner" cabin for newlywed offspring.

At the other end of the spectrum from Reagan Mill, Noah Ogle's was a rough-cut tub mill built in the 1880s. Hollowed out logs serve as the flume and the eleven foot square mill building is a crib of hand split logs. The open spaces between the logs provided the only light shed on the small, 22 inch millstones.

Like most tub mill owners, Noah Ogle left the job of making and maintaining the stones to someone with specialized skills. It could take a local craftsman two to three days to dress a set of two millstones. If the mill was well used, the job had to be done annually. After turning the heavy stones, the craftsman had to true the faces then sharpen the grooves and lands (raised strips between grooves) with picks to ensure smooth milling.

As memories of mills fade, these historic places provide park visitors with an opportunity to see how earlier generations obtained meal and flour for their daily bread. The thumping of water against wheel, the rhythmic click of gears and whir of millstones can conjure a picture of mill day.

Picking up a package of bread at the store is thankfully convenient, but by detaching ourselves from our food, we have lost some things: the satisfaction of growing our own sustenance, the sense of community at the gristmll, and the mouth-watering unmatched smell of bread fresh from the oven. The gristmills of the Smokies remind us of this former and very visceral connection to our food, from seed to supper.

The mill was restored to its operational condition in the 1960s.

Driving Directions:
In downtown Gatlinburg turn onto Historic Nature Trail. Travel 2.2 miles to the entrance of Cherokee Orchard Road. This driving trail is a one-way road which runs for 8 miles.

 


WHY PLATINUM & PALLADIUM PRINTS?


A New King - Pure Platinum Print by Tim LaytonA New King - Pure Platinum Print by Tim Layton Although difficult and costly to create, platinum prints are the sine qua non of photographic art. Discerning art buyers and collectors value platinum prints because of their ethereal beauty, permanence, and rarity.

Once a platinum print is experienced in person, it is usually a visual revelation because of its tremendous tonal range and delicate characteristics.  

The platinum print dates back to the mid 19th century when chemists and photographers were exploring ways to make more permanent photographs.  It all started in 1842 when Sir John Hershel discovered an iron-based printing process.  Fast forward about thirty years and William Willis Jr. patented the platinum printing process that builds upon the light-sensitive research of Hershel.  

Permanence

Platinum is a noble metal and is one of the most stable known to science.  It is more precious than gold and because of its stability, a handmade platinum print that is made to archival standards can last for thousands of years as compared to 100 or 200 years for regular photographs.  Palladium is less stable than platinum, but it certainly is considered to be an archival print by collectors and curators. Art buyers and collectors are well served by the archival properties of these noble metals. 

Rarity

In the 21st century, the vast majority of life and photography have been digitized.  There are only a small number of dedicated platinum printmakers actively creating artist original work with platinum and I am one of them.  Since platinum prints are made entirely by hand, each one is unique and this is important when considering original artwork. 

Beauty

In the right hands, platinum prints are unparalleled in their beauty and many people describe them as having a three-dimensional appearance. When a platinum print is made, the light-sensitive iron particles chemically react with the platinum to form fine elemental platinum particles into and on the top fibers of the paper.  Because the resulting platinum is both woven into the fibers and sits on top of the paper, platinum prints have a depth about them unlike any other type of fine art photograph.