Right inside of the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just after the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee is a historic grist mill from the 1800’s that is still functional to this day.
Mingus Mill is a historical grist mill built in 1886. It used a water powered turbine to power all the machinery in the building. It was the largest grist mill in the Smoky Mountains and served around 200 families during its time. Mingus Mill actually acted as a sort of grocery store or farmers market of its time. During the 1800’s and early 1900’s families in the region would come to the mill on Saturdays to get their corn milled but they would also bring other goods and skills to barter with others as they waited. The mill was built for $600 and used locally harvested lumber. This was during the logging boom that took place during this time and the lumber used came from Smokemont, which is now a campground but used to be a booming timber camp. Mingus Mill served the community for over 40 years and became idle during the 1930’s. It's still functional today and you can actually come and see knowledgeable park staff do demonstrations and get a glimpse of what life was like when North America was first being settled.
The Mingus family was one of the first families to settle in the Oconaluftee River Valley in 1790. There are three cemeteries in the area: Mingus-Floyd Cemetary, Mingus Family Cemetary, and the Mingus Mill Slave Cemetary. It was common practice at that time for wealthy families to own slaves, and their graves can be found near Mingus Mill. It’s worth a stop at this quiet spot, which can be found atop a hill adjacent to the parking lot. Sometimes you will find coins on the graves, placed upside down. This is common in slave graveyards or cemeteries. West African slaves believed the underworld is an upside-down of our world and connected by water. By leaving coins in this position, you are leaving a message that you visited and paid respect. These coins are also left behind to: “pay the ferryman to safely get the departed soul to the afterlife.”
Mingus Mill is easily accessible and a really interesting place to visit while you are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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