Since as early as 1986, vacationers from around the world have become acquainted with Dollywood in Pigeon Forge TN
. The park actually can trace its roots back to 1961 when Rebel Railroad first opened. Rebel Railroad was once standing in the same place Dollywood is standing in today. The Robbins Brother, originally from North Carolina, operated a small-scale attraction that featured a coal-fired steam train, Klondike Katie, a small general store, a blacksmith shop and a saloon. Many visitors were amazed by the Smoky Mountains
and its way of living and waiting to see what Rebel Railroad had to offer them. What the Robbins Brothers did not know was that they were laying the groundwork for what is now Tennessee’s most popular attraction.
In 1970, Rebel Railroad had a change in ownership and its name changed. The purchaser of Rebel Railroad was the then owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Rebel Railroad was renamed Goldrush Junction and was named Tennessee’s Million Dollar Fun attraction. Even though the name changed Goldrush Junction began to grow. Visitors were still enjoying the five-mile train ride into the foothills of the Smokies, the train ride included fake Indian attacks and train robberies.
New attractions to Goldrush Junction were a wood shop and a saw mill in the area to celebrate the history of the logging community, an outdoor theater, log cabins, a campground, and children’s rides were also added to Goldrush Junction. Visitors to Goldrush Junction could for gold, stop by the saloon to enjoy some live entertainment and ride the Log Flume. In 1973, the Robert F. Thomas Church was built. The church was named after a well known doctor in the area and it represented represented the devotion of the community to its Christian values.
In 1976, as visitors continued to flow into the attraction, Goldrush Junction before known as just Goldrush. In 1977 the park changed names and owners once again. Jack and Pete Herschend of Herschend Enterprises bought Goldrush, and changed the name to Silver Dollar City, Tennessee. The Herschend family wasn’t new to the industry, in fact Jack and Pete were born into a family that had often traveled to Marvel Cave, which is Missouri’s deepest. Marvel Cave had been opened to tourists in 1894 by the Lynch family and 1950 the Herschend family made an agreement with the Lynch family to lease Marvel Cave. In the early 1950’s they purchased 640 acres around the cave. The Herschend’s had major plans to turn Marvel Cave into a huge tourist attraction. On May 1, 1960, previously known Marvel Cave, was now known as Silver Dollar City in Branson. The theme park included five frontier style buildings, a blacksmith, a general store, an ice cream parlor, a doll shop and the Stage Coach Inn, and two reconstructed log buildings.
How the park got its name was another story. The name can trace back to the 1960’s when people paid for everything in cash. The Herschends were encouraged to use silver dollars as change in the park. So when visitors spent the coins somewhere else and we asked where they got them they replied with, “Silver Dollar City.” The Herschends decided to use the phrase and name the park, “Silver Dollar City”. When Silver Dollar City started running the Herschend Corporation expanded into other theme parks, which included White Water water parks, the Showboat Branson Belle, and the Grand Village in Branson.
So, with the Silver Dollar City in Branson well underway the Herschend Brother looked eastward for their next location. After buying Goldrush in 1977, the Herschend Brother contributed over a million dollars in improvements for Silver Dollar City, Tennessee to open. The Herschend Brothers showcased the craftsmanship of the Great Smoky Mountains
as guests entered close to the park’s train trestle, they passed under the tracks and entered Craftsman’s Valley. Craftsman’s Valley was filled with talented people, including blacksmith’s wood carvers, leather smiths and lye soap makers.
The park experienced a large amount of growth over the next few years. This growth included the addition of rides, shops, some more craftsmen, shows and attractions. One of the main attractions was the Silver Dollar Grist Mill, which was completed in 1983, it became the first working grist mill built in Tennessee in over 100 years. In 1980, the park expanded well beyond Craftsman’s Valley by adding additional rides. Silver Dollar City had a steady growth through the early 1980’s. However, the Herschend brothers still felt like there was something missing. They soon welcomed singer and songwriter Dolly Parton into the theme park business in 1986. Dolly not only shared her entertainment expertise and her love of the Great Smokey Mountains but she also shared her name. In 1986, what was known as Silver Dollar City opened up as Dollywood. Since Dollywood’s opening in 1986 Dolly and the Herschend family have remained partners.
In Dollywood’s first year it had a huge increase in attendance by drawing in 1.3 million people. Dollywood is now ranked in the top 50 most attended theme parks in the world. Dollywood has also more than doubled in size since its beginning. Dollywood entertains more than two million people a year.
Since the Dollywood name has been given to the theme park more than $110 million in expansions are now noticeable as Dolly’s commitment to offering something new every season. Several old favorites to still continue to entertain guests each year and the Robert F. Thomas Chapel still remains in the park because it was actually Dr. Robert F. Thomas, who was a doctor, that delivered Ms. Dolly Parton.
Visitors from all across the country come to Pigeon Forge TN
to visit Dollywood. Dollywood will always pride itself in making memories worth repeating. Dollywood offers a nice blend of thrilling rides, wonderful shows and master craftsmen in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dollywood also has a staff that has a genuine interest in the guest’s experiences. Dollywood will surely become and family tradition for your family.