In the village of Usquepaugh, on the banks of the Queen’s River, Kenyon’s Grist Mill has ground whole berries of grain and whole kernels of corn into meal or flour continuously since 1696.
Kenyon’s still uses the 1886 mill built by John Tarbox and the name of former owner C.D. Kenyon, who purchased the mill in 1909. At first, farmers brought their own corn or grist to be ground, and later Kenyon sold the ground meal in branded sacks with the Kenyon name, available for everyone to purchase.
Rhode Islanders make one of their favorite traditional foods, johnnycakes, with Kenyon’s stone ground cornmeal. Mix cornmeal with salt and hot water or milk; sometimes sweeten with sugar or honey; then fry on a flat surface and serve thick or thin, depending on regional preference. South County johnnycakes are thicker and traditionally served with butter only, but Newport residents slather theirs in butter and maple syrup. American Southerners call a similar dish a hoe cake, named after the gardening tool on which they were originally cooked.
While recipes and stories about the name and origin vary, indigenous peoples prepared the pancake-like cornmeal patties for generations before European colonialization. Some claim that the name derives from “journey cake,” referring to the food’s durability and portability during long trips. The term may also have indigenous or African origins. Benjamin Franklin called johnnycakes “better than a Yorkshire muffin.”
Between 1973 and 2014, Kenyon’s hosted Johnny Cake Festivals. The events drew thousands of people and featured local vendors, live music, mill tours, and food—including, of course, johnnycakes.