The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast 

Historic Cumberland Gap, Tennessee


Cumberland Gap History

For the first time since the 1940s, the Olde Mill is grinding corn again.

Back during Prohibition, moonshiners would run "shine" from Knoxville to Middlesboro, KY to supply booze to Al Capone and others... and the only way back then was to come through "the Gap".  Its history goes all the way back to Daniel Boone's times... when the Native Americans would use the pass for hunting and such. 

Cumberland Gap ~ American Civil War History

The Old Wilderness Road cutting through "The Gap" was a natural invasion route for both the Confederacy and the Union. For the Confederacy, the road led to the rich Kentucky bluegrass country to the north. For the Union, the road led to the Northern sympathizers of East Tennessee and an opportunity to cut rebel supply lines. In late summer of 1861, the Confederacy seized The Gap and made it the eastern anchor of a defense line which extended to the Mississippi River. Confederate Brigadier General William Churchwell was placed in command and fortified the garrison during the fall of 1861. Brigadier General Churchwell built seven forts on the north-facing slope and cleared the mountains of all trees within one mile of each fort. Needed elsewhere, the Confederates abandoned the Gap in June 1862.

Union Brigadier General George W. Morgan soon arrived to take possession of The Gap. The 20,000 men under his command began building nine south-facing batteries to repel an invasion - but none came. The Confederates under Lt. General Kirby Smith bypassed The Gap with 12,000 men and moved into Kentucky, severing General Morgan's supply line. Without food and still fearing an attack, General Morgan boldly led his men north through enemy territory to safety.

The Confederates returned to the Gap, cleared up the mess the Union left behind, and strengthened the forts. Many skirmishes took place, as Unionists from Tennessee raided the garrison. In September 1863 a Union force under Major General Ambrose Burnside moved toward The Gap and on September 7, 1863 the Yankees destroyed provisions stored at the Iron Furnace located just two blocks from The Olde Mill Inn. General Burnside also deceived Confederate Brigadier General John W. Frazer into believing that his force was stronger than it actually was. Believing his Confederates to be outmanned, and short of provisions necessary for a long siege, Brigadier General Frazer surrendered his garrison on September 9, 1863.

Lining up along Harlan Road, the Confederates were amazed to see the small force to which they had surrendered. The Gap remained in Union hands until the end of the war. Except for a garrison inspected by Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant in January 1864, when he labeled Cumberland Gap the "Gibraltar of America", there was little excitement. Meanwhile, the war was fought to its end in the South and East.

By the end of the war The Gap had changed hands four times, yet no major confrontation took place here.

The Olde Mill Inn's log cabin, built in the 1700s


A "single pen" is a basic log house. To make a single pen, builders join four walls by cutting or notching the log ends in such a way that they interlock when laid horizontally. There are variations on these notches, but the most common are the v-notch, the full-dovetail, and the half-dovetail.

Henry Glassie identified two basic shapes of single pen structures, the square and the rectangle. The square single pen derives from British tradition and has a gable roof parallel to the front with an end chimney at one of the gable ends and single door on the front. The rectangle pen is Scottish-Irish in origin and also has a gable roof parallel to the front with an end chimney in one of the gables. The rectangle pen, however, has both a front and back door and, usually, a window to one side of the front door. John Morgan found the rectangle to be the most common shape in his study of log houses in East Tennessee. These pens had dimensions ranging between eighteen by thirteen feet and thirty six by eighteen feet. Most commonly, they had one and a half stories, but a few were one-story, and fewer still had two stories. In some cases, the first story was divided into rooms by a partition made of boards laid vertically or horizontally. Limestone is easily available in much of the Upland South, and builders in Morgan's study usually chose this stone for their chimneys, although they sometimes built chimneys of brick and, in a few surviving examples, of sticks and mud.


Oldest Standing Building in Cumberland Gap!


Built in the late 1800's, the Olde Mill Inn has seen a lot of history. A lot of that history was its very own. Thought to be originally used as a boarding house for the Pinnacle Wagon works located across the street (c. 1905). It was built by J.B. Cockrill and his wife Ruth; and they were the first ones ever to sell it. It was sold to "Mrs. Elisabeth Thacker and Children" in 1905. We are pretty sure she was a widow, as her husband's name would have been listed first on the deed otherwise. The owner of the Pinnacle wagon works, Russel, married one of Mrs. Thacker's daughters -Addie Lenor Thacker - on October 6, 1907, and lived with her and their family here.

The whole house is built out of tongue-and-groove wood, and set on a fieldstone foundation.  The Olde Mill inn is a strong and sturdy home, and is still heated by a coal furnace almost as old as the house itself (update~ NEW high efficiency wood and coal furnace added in summer 2011 - no more $2,000 utility bills!) The town's railway station was just down the block, and it is likely The Olde Mill Inn was used to put up travelers. It was a local landmark long before it ever became The Mill.

Cumberland Gap has seen a lot of history of its own. The old iron foundry, the Civil War, feast, famine, boom, bust, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Indians, "White lightning" running (ever watch the movie "Thunder Road"? That was us!) Al Capone, real gangsters, over 300,000 pioneers passing through the Gap - the gateway to the west.  Cumberland Gap was no stranger to fires, war, and disasters. But through it all the town - and The Olde Mill Inn - have survived.

The Mill works were added in the 1940's and were built by the Fitz Water Wheel Co. out of Hanover, PA. Complete with massive grinding stones imported from England. About that time the Log Cabin was added, it was saved from burning, when they were building where L.M.U. stands today. Check out some of the logs, some have musket ball holes! It is said to have stood where the Victorian resort "the Four Seasons" was being built in the early 1800's. Arthur and the American Association spent some two million dollars developing Harrogate, the jewel of which was the Four Seasons Hotel, a 700-room structure believed to have been the largest hotel in the U.S. at the time. The hotel included a lavish dining hall, a casino, and a separate sanitarium ~ aka "Spa". The economic panic of the early 1890s and the subsequent collapse of Arthur's London financial backers doomed the American Associates, however, and the Four Seasons was sold and dismantled.

The Olde Mill Inn has been a Museum, Wedding Chapel, Cookie Shop, Restaurant, Ice Cream shop, has been rumored to have been a "Bordello" or "Cat House as we like to say around the grand kids...The mill in the 1940's, Art School in the 80's and a private home.

Today it is our families Bed and Breakfast. We like to say it has a split personality...the mill and the cabin...that just fit perfectly together. You feel the history throughout the Inn. Our beautiful wood floors, our tongue and grove walls...hand hewn walls in the cabin, with some logs over 30" wide...whispers to you the past, if you stand still long enough... All of the original Milling works are still in place and make a wonderful "cool" factor for the house.

The mills wheel melody, soothe the most frazzled, as it turns, reminding us to slow down, relax and enjoy this extraordinary little town and National Park ...Stress just seeps away from you here, you just feel so, relaxed, and warm here. There is just something about the place. We feel it is just seems to be happy being our bed and Breakfast. You will feel it too when you stay with us.

So come sit out on the bridge and feed the trout, sip some tea, walk the trails, stretch out on your wonderful pillow topped bed...Quite is in the air. No crowds, no traffic, no stress... just peace and beauty....come see for yourself....