Here’s one part of Little Rock that any aficionado of classic cinema is surely going to want to check out. Located on North Little Rock’s Lakeshore Drive, this little curiosity’s biggest claim to fame is its appearance in the opening sequence of the 1939 cinematic classic Gone With the Wind.
Officially called the TR Pugh Memorial Park, the Old Mill, as it’s colloquially known, was, oddly enough, never a mill, and isn’t as old as one might be inclined to think from its appearance. The old two-story mill is, in fact, a remarkable piece of artwork completed in the early 1930s; rather than being the abandoned remnant of late 19th century architecture that it appears to be, it is, rather, a celebration of that rustic style, never actually functioning as a real mill, but deliberately fashioned to appear like one. Designed by architect Frank Carmean and constructed by Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez, the Old Mill is a remarkable example of faux bois, the artistic imitation of wood. Nearly every aspect of the mill and the surrounding area that seems to be made out of wood – from the flooring and stairs of the mill, to the five-ton water wheel, to the gnarled bridges stretching over the surrounding lake, right down to the loose logs scattered about the mill – are, in fact, constructed from cement, all of it carefully treated and sculpted to resemble aged wood. The illusion is completed via the addition of various authentic remnants of the 19th century, such as the first floor’s iron gristmill, which was taken from a working mill and dates back to the 1820s, and a pair of genuine milestones set down on a road at the north end of the park, taken from a historical road by the Arkansas River.
At the time of its construction, the area surrounding the Old Mill was a suburban development. The area’s developer, Justin Matthews, wished to add some extra draw to the area; thus, he commissioned Rodriguez and Carmean to create the Old Mill, reasoning that it would encourage visits from tourists – and, perhaps, potential buyers. A contemporary advertisement in the Arkansas Gazette drew attention to the mill’s rustic charm.
In the 1970s, Matthews’ estate would hand over ownership of the mill and surrounding park to the city; and it would become a staple among North Little Rock’s tourist attractions.
Though entirely artificial, the Old Mill is one of the most unique things that you’re likely to come across in your Little Rock trip. It’s a remarkable piece of artistic history styled after an equally remarkable piece of architectural history. The mill, and the lush park that surrounds it, is accessible every day from 8am to 8pm, and guided tours are offered.