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History Lesson: Dollywood’s Water Clock

Is there something you keep in your Dollywood bag for every trip?

Mine would be a copy of the 1982 park map for Silver Dollar City, Tennessee. I love historical things like that. A friend of mine was cleaning out his parents’ house, found it and gave it to me. I was flattered that he would let this awesome piece of history leave his hands.

As I studied the map, I noticed something. The entrance to the park was just outside Craftsman’s Valley; instead of the current water clock, the ticket booths and turnstiles were in that location.

Since this discovery, I have wondered about the water clock—when it made its appearance and the story behind it.

Dollywood’s Water Clock

So, this is the year I started asking questions. I learned the park entrance moved in 1986 from the foot of Craftsman’s Valley to the area now known as Market Square. The water clock was modeled after a similar feature at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. Both parks are owned by the same family, so when the partnership with Dolly Parton came along it was important to showcase elements like the water clock as a nod to where it all started. It’s very important to the Dollywood team.

But, where did the idea come from? I found out the premise dates back to Andy Miller, the original designer for the property and the brainchild for the architecture. He was a stickler for authenticity and had it built to last. The park was not made to look like a movie set, but to feel real. He was a creative genius on little details and historical accuracies, which longtime Dollywood hosts now call, “Andyisms.”

How to Read It

Like me, you may see this feature in Rivertown Junction and wonder what the years on the clock mean. Here’s what I’ve learned: the clock corresponds with the current year. In this case, 1880 = 2020. Each decade, it starts over. The idea, as it was originally intended, keeps you in the 1880s when you’re in this area.

The Significance of the Water

If you look carefully, you’ll notice the water that flows through this clock actually starts at the top of Craftsman’s Valley and runs all the way down the hill to the clock. The Dollywood team likes to use water and motion (you see it all over the park!).

As I was researching the water clock, I found out the water is pulled up from the upper end of the creek, runs through the trough and runs the Grist Mill. When Dollywood expanded beyond the original gate, they tied a water feature in and kept the flowing motion. Andy and his design team liked the nice spill out that creates the whole concept of everything flowing. Also, it’s homage to what was the original power source in those days.

Did You Know?

The Grist Mill was built on-site and hewn out of logs by the park’s own craftsmen. It is the only working Tennessee Grist Mill built from scratch in the past 130 years.

Future Plans?

Especially during Flower & Food Festival, I noticed the clock was somewhat of a feature. The pond displayed a few Mosaicultures. That made me ask if Dollywood has plans to make it pop more in the coming years? Hosts tell me the clock is one of those features that they don’t really call attention to—which is what they do with a lot of vignettes throughout the park whether it be a sign or quirky element that someone may stop and catch. If Dollywood can get a guest to stop for a second and check out what they’ve placed in a specific spot, they’ve done their job. (One of those ways is dedicating a sign to hosts who have been with the company for 30 years.) It’s just fun little things like that.

Insider Tip

Check out this blog post about these theme signs for hosts!

So, the next time you’re walking through Dollywood be sure to take notice of everything.  Dollywood enjoys paying homage to history in many ways.

By | 2020-08-21T14:51:37+00:00 August 19th, 2020|Behind the Scenes|0 Comments

About the Author:

Justin Hornback (Dollywood Insider 2019-Now) is the father of an adventurous two-year-old and the husband of a fellow Dollywood enthusiast. Born and raised in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Justin loves all things hospitality, theatre, film, hotels, travel and history. Most importantly, his daily focus is getting to spend time with family. He shares his adventures on his blog and social media channels at Snapshots Made Yesterday. Justin loves visiting Dollywood (the four-hour drive is worth it!) with his wife and son. They are often found exploring Dollywood with his parents, who have passed on the love for the park. When not at Dollywood, Justin works behind the scenes managing the box office and social media for a performing arts theatre in his hometown.
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