The John P. Cable Mill in Cades Cove was a technological advancement of its day, the likes of which Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains had never before seen. In those early days, power was a commodity that had yet to be discovered up until the Mill’s formation.
The water wheel was a form of power that was used by early grist mills like the Cable Mill. The Smoky Mountains Natural History Association operates the Cable Mill today from April-October.
Back then, the more forward thinking residents of Cades Cove built water driven mills to grind grain. It was a business decision for them. They thought that other families who called Cades Cove home would rather pay them to grind their grain rather than try to do it themselves in their homes. Tub mills, which were the alternative, could only process a bushel of corn a day. It was a worthwhile gamble as folks like John P. Cable made a good living with his mill.
The waterwheel driven mills could grind wheat into flour, in addition to processing cornmeal, and was looked upon favorably by Cades Cove’s residents. Instead of a diet of pure cornbread, families could now make biscuits.
So what did it cost the average family to grind and sack of grain? Maybe a portion of the flour or meal, possibly money, whatever they could offer was up for grabs in those days. And it wasn’t only John Cable reaing the rewards of a fully operational mill. His son and Frederick Shields also operated mills in Cades Cove. The Cable and Shields also used their waterwheel to power saw mills.
Saw mills were important in the history of Cades Cove because they revolutionized how houses were built. Homes were constructed out of logs before saw mills. Saw mills provided for lumber and frame construction. Also, most owners of the log homes in Cades Cove bought lumber for siding to cover the fact that they were living in old fashioned cabins.