By CHRIS TRAMEL
Nestled in the hills of the Highland Rim rests a cozy little getaway that offers old time country charm with modern amenities and services.
Located just outside Smithville, the Inn at Evins Mill is small enough to offer a relaxing weekend for couples, yet large enough to host corporate events or give a wedding an added remembrance. The natural beauty of the area, combined with the lodging facilities and catering services, make the resort an attractive option for those looking for a unique setting for getaways and events.
William Cochran Jr., co-owner and manager of the Inn at Evins Mill, said the property has been the site of a mill for nearly 200 years.
“There were three mills located on this property before this one, not necessarily at that same spot,” he explained. “There was a Lockhart’s Mill with the land grant for that dating back to 1824. At some point that mill was washed away in a flood, and after that there was the Lawrence Mill, and there was Webb’s Mill in the early 1900’s. Judge Bethel Webb was an infl uential man in this area, but that mill was also lost to a flood. We have named our guesthouses after those previous owners.”
Gristmills have been around since early Greek and Roman times in different forms and were an essential part of agricultural life. American mills were usually hydro powered, where water flows onto a large paddled wheel, which turns a series of gears and shafts. Inside the mill, a large millstone turns and grinds grain into flour or meal. These mills were part of nearly every farming community. Farmers would bring their corn or wheat to be ground, usually in exchange for a “miller’s toll,” or percentage of the grain.
Cochran said that Evins Mill has a connection to a wellknown flour company today.
“The facilities that constitute the inn, two of them are historic buildings. The main lodge as well as the gristmill was built by Edgar Evins, who was a state Senator and a pretty nimble businessman who made money investing in banking and oil.
He acquired this property in 1937, and two years later started the construction of the lodge and gristmill in conjunction with the Martha White Company, which was emerging in Lebanon at that time. He built the mill while his wife oversaw the construction of the lodge. The mill ran for about five years, but at the end of World War II it stopped operations and has never run as a commercial mill since that time.”
While the mill was no longer in operational, Cochran said the buildings were used as a meeting place for politicians and for social gatherings. “Sporadically through its history it was used by Joe L. Evins, Edgar Evins’ son. Joe L. Evins was an U.S. Congressman from 1946 to 1976, and Al Gore would take his place. Edgar Evins and his wife, Myrtie, passed this property on to him, and he used it as a place for family events like weddings – one or two of his daughters got married here, and he hosted a lot of political powwows. Tennessee governors and politicians would come here. Later, he turned the building into a museum/country store for a while, but it was never a commercial type. It was more a curiosity, or slice of the past, for Joe L. Evins.
“When Joe L. Evins passed away he gave it to Vanderbilt, his alma mater. They didn’t know what to do with it so they sold it to a family from Texas, the Issacs family.” Cochran said that his father later bought the property and began renovations. In 1994, he and his father formed the Cochran Management Company, which acquired the property and further developed the renovations.
“When we first opened Evins Mill, we actually called it Evins Mill Retreat, seeing it as a corporate destination. At that time, we had two conference rooms at the top floor of the gristmill. At first, that is how we marketed the property, and it still makes a great conference destination today.”
Currently Cochran refers to the inn as a small resort or retreat property that is open to couples for weekend trips, weddings and a meeting place for business seminars and events.
“In 2006, we invested several hundred thousand dollars building a 1,200 square foot reception hall, building a bar and building outside decks. This is where we serve all of our food and beverage events. Today, we have three conference areas – 1,200, 900, and 300 square feet – with audio/visual capacity, and all three have wireless Internet.
“We’re not really a vacation destination,” Cochran explained. “But, we do serve as a wonderful weekend getaway spot. It feels like we’re in the mountains here. We have hemlocks and evergreens, and we’re only an hour from Nashville. You don’t have to drive all the way to Gatlinburg to get that mountain feeling. We’re far enough to get away from everything but close enough for it to easy for a one or two night deal.”
Cochran said the Inn’s proximity to other tourist destinations and its natural beauty adds to its appeal.
“The property has been designated a State Natural Area. The property includes Carmac Falls, Tennessee's tenth highest recorded waterfall, a swimming hole, and hiking trails. For those who like nature, relaxation, and good food, this is the place for you. It’s close to Center Hill Lake, Riverwatch Golf Course, and the Appalachian Center for Crafts.”
The resort also features a fishing pond with bass, bluegill and brim, a recreation area with a volleyball court and horseshoe pit, and hammocks and rocking chairs. Other in-house entertainment includes a billiard table, table tennis, dart boards, and a library. Cochran said the inn also offers a massage therapist for those wishing even further relaxation.
Another appeal of the Inn at Evins Mill is the food service. The facility offers catering services for large events as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner for its guests. “Obviously the food and drink is a big part of any event,” Cochran said. “We have technically two chefs, meaning chefs that graduated from a culinary school, but we have another person that is just as good as they are, so we call her a chef as well. We’re not a restaurant, where you can just pop in and get a meal. We always take dinner reservations if we’re open, meaning if we’re already serving guests staying with us, or we’re not hosting an exclusive event like a wedding. This weekend for example, we have couples staying with us Friday and Saturday night, and if you called and asked if you could come to dinner, I’d say ‘Sure, here’s what we’re having’. A dinner usually consists of hors d’oeuvres before hand, a fourcourse dinner, choice of two entrées, and non-alcoholic beverages. If it’s a wedding or corporate group, they can order what ever they want. In terms of the food, the property and the beauty of the place are a main attraction, but our food is a big reason people return to us.”
While the Inn at Evins Mill is wonderful for corporate events and weekend getaways, additional services offered make it an ideal location for the perfect wedding. “We provide the standard furnishings for a wedding, with white wedding chairs, trellis, runners, banquet chairs, tables and linens,” Cochran said. “We set it up, and we break it down. We have a wedding facilitator that can work with the bride to plan the event. We offer property rental, furnishing and coordination, and food and beverage.”
Cochran said that the wedding party reserves the entire property exclusively. “For a 24-hour period, they have the whole property including the lodge, the gristmill, and our nicest overnight accommodations. We keep all of our other rooms available for their guests and family. We can accommodate 30 to 36 people.”
He says the inn also can provide a wedding vendor list for other arrangements such as floral, photography, and other wedding related services. “It’s like a destination wedding but with the convenience of being close to home.”
Whether you are looking for a brief respite from the daily grind or a wonderful country atmosphere to hold that special event, the Inn at Evins Mill has what you need. While it stays true to its small town heritage and charm, its professional staff and the services they provide will make any event one that will be remembered