Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted Jan. 6, 2020.
Dollywood is by far the most popular ticketed attraction in the Great Smoky Mountains. But do you know how the top destination came to be Dollywood? Here is a little history about this beloved park.
Before it was Dollywood, three other parks existed in this location before Dolly Parton’s name was on it. The very first park was Rebel Railroad. Brothers from North Carolina built this attraction in 1961. It was designed around its main attraction, Klondike Katie. You can still enjoy Engine 192 when you visit Dollywood today—a coal-fired steam engine. Rebel Railroad also included a general store, a blacksmith shop and a saloon.
The park changed hands in 1970 when the same man who owned the Cleveland Browns football organization purchased the attraction. He changed the name to Goldrush Junction and the area was transformed into a Wild West theme park. Visitors still enjoyed the train ride through the Smoky Mountains but with added mock train robberies. With the growing success of the park, they added a log flume ride and more attractions including the Robert F. Thomas Chapel. The chapel was named for a well-known, local doctor and preacher. He also happens to be the man who delivered Dolly.
Silver Dollar City, Tennessee
In 1976, Jack and Pete Herschend purchased the park and renamed it Silver Dollar City, Tennessee. They modeled it after their original Silver Dollar City park located in Branson, Missouri. Silver Dollar City was an 1880’s-themed attraction which showcased the craftsmanship of the Smoky Mountain region. Talented artisans, including blacksmiths, leather smiths, wood carvers and soap makers, all showcased their crafts and demonstrated their trades. There was significant park growth during the Silver Dollar City years. The Herschend family added many new rides, shops and shows. One of the attractions they added during this time was the Silver Dollar City Grist Mill. It was completed in 1983 and was the first working grist mill built in Tennessee in more than 100 years. If you’ve tried Dollywood’s cinnamon bread, I bet you’re glad the Herschends made this addition!
The final name change came about because of a 1982 interview Dolly gave Barbara Walters. The Herschend brothers were listening when the superstar shared her desire to open a theme park in her home town. Not wanting to compete with the local legend, they quickly reached out to the beloved country singer and suggested a partnership. Dolly agreed, and a park makeover and name change began the first chapter in Dollywood’s history. On May 3, 1986, Dollywood opened its door and welcomed 1.3 million people that first season as Dollywood. That was more than double the number of guests Silver Dollar City, Tennessee, had seen the year before.
Check out this cover story People Magazine wrote when Dollywood first opened.
It’s no secret that Dollywood’s success is due to Dolly herself. Her genuine charm and love for people have made Dollywood a special place to visit. Each year, the park continues to grow and is currently the top tourist attraction in Tennessee. If you’ve been, you know there’s no wonder why visitors from across the country and around the world flock to Dollywood to “create memories worth repeating.”
Read more about Dollywood’s history here.