I am curious: How many Dollywood visitors have made the same mistake I made for many years? I noticed the replica of Dolly Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home (just past Aunt Granny’s Restaurant in the heart of the Rivertown Junction area) and marveled at how Dolly had grown up in such a humble way. Yet, I never walked up the ramp to see what was inside – or even knew there was something inside.
Once I realized what was past the façade, it became a place where I spend some time on many of my Dollywood visits. A fascinating glimpse into the foundation of what made Dolly, Dolly! This replica of her actual childhood home was built by her brothers, while her mother Avie Lee oversaw the decorating of the interior of the home, ensuring its accuracy. Pause as you stand in front of the house, or as you’re walking up the ramp and see if you hear Dolly singing the lyrics, “In my Tennessee mountain home…”
The Replica of Dolly’s Childhood Home
When you walk up the ramp, you see a small two-room cabin with the kitchen on the left side and a bedroom on the right side. In actuality, Dolly’s childhood home had two bedrooms: one would have been behind the rooms you can see here, where the Back Porch Theater is located. I marveled that 12 children plus two parents could all sleep in two bedrooms, but I was reminded that they weren’t all in this home at the same time. The Parton children were born in the years between 1940 and 1959.
The kitchen is wallpapered in newspaper—just as many modest homes were during Dolly’s childhood. You may also notice the food stuffs kept in mason jars on the shelves and boxes and tins of food authentic to the time. A jar of lye soap is on the smaller table and there are bowls or basins for water; a reminder that Dolly didn’t always have running water as she was growing up in that cabin. Dolly is quoted as saying, “We had two rooms, a path and running water…if you were willing to run and get it, that is!” Between the two rooms is a calendar from January of 1946 with Dolly’s birthday circled.
In the bedroom, there are beds of different sizes and some family pictures on the wall.
Also, you see toys the Parton children would have played with in this room. I was interested in the wooden wagon on the floor, handmade paper dolls on the wall, a corn husk doll on the mantel and a rag doll and some books on a chair. I learned that some of Dolly’s cousins had money to buy store-bought toys, but around the Parton home, it was mostly handmade toys such as these.
Notice the hand-knit rugs on the floor and the items in the glass case before the exit door: all sorts of tinctures, baby powder, a corncob pipe and a jar of buttons! All were very likely to be found in a home of this sort when Dolly was a child.
Chasing Rainbows Museum
An additional stop to enrich your view of Dolly’s childhood is the upstairs of Chasing Rainbows Museum. The area called “Dolly’s Attic,” contains a wide assortment of items from Dolly’s growing-up years. I loved the cross-stitch picture listing each of her siblings and their birthdates.
Near this, you will see a photograph of her beloved parents.
There are lots of pictures in this area, an old iron bedframe that was actually used in her childhood home, pillows, posters, and a sewing machine with a basket of scraps surely similar to the sewing machine and scraps Dolly’s mother used for her famed coat of many colors.
There are priceless black and white photos of her family when she was a child with her brothers and sisters, an old washboard, and a stick with a tin can on top reminiscent of the one Dolly used as her pretend microphone as she “performed” on the front porch of her home when she was a little girl. You’ll note, too, the old stove, butter churn, cast iron skillets, quilts and a rag doll sitting in a rocking chair.
Dr. Robert Thomas’ old mailbox is displayed, as is his old medical bag, with a story of how he was paid for delivering Dolly with a sack of cornmeal. Don’t miss the copy of Dolly’s birth certificate sticking out of the medical bag!
These two places are fun, educational stops—an authentic look back at Tennessee mountain life in the 1940’s and 50’s. Let the children in your group point out what is similar to and different from your home! Point out the “old timey” bottles of medicines and food. Look at the clothes people are wearing in the photographs, enjoy the hologram of Dolly upstairs in the museum and listen to her tell stories of her childhood. Stop and read the placards with quotes from Dolly about her growing up years, and hear the echo of Dolly singing,
“Sittin’ on the front porch on a summer afternoon
In a straight-back chair on two legs, leaned against the wall.
Watch the kids a’ playin’ with June bugs on a string
And chase the glowin’ fireflies when evenin’ shadows fall.
Honeysuckle vine clings to the fence along the lane,
Their fragrance makes the summer wind so sweet.
And on a distant hilltop, an eagle spreads its wings
An’ a songbird on a fence post sings a melody.
Walkin’ home from church on a Sunday with the one ya’ love –
Just laughin’, talkin’, making future plans.
And when the folks ain’t lookin’, you might steal a kiss or two
Sittin’ in the porch swing, holdin’ hands.
In my Tennessee mountain home
Life is as peaceful as a baby’s sigh.
In my Tennessee mountain home
Crickets sing in the fields nearby.”