In 1961, Rebel Railroad opened near the gateway to The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The tiny tourist attraction featured a steam strain, general store, saloon, and blacksmith shop. Over the next quarter century, the ever-growing theme park went through a variety of changes, including new owners, attractions, and names until finally, in 1986, country icon Dolly Parton became part owner.
Why a theme park? Well, Dolly Parton always promised herself that if she found success in music, she would come back to her hometown and “do something great” for the area. Specifically, she hoped to create as many jobs as she could for the residents of East Tennessee.
To say she succeeded in this endeavor would be an understatement. Dollywood is now an award-winning theme park and the biggest ticketed attraction in Tennessee. Each year, the theme park brings in millions of guests, who spend their days enjoying thrill rides, local crafts, and musical events.
And, of course, there’s plenty of Dolly, whose influence on the theme park can’t be missed. In a recent interview with Travel + Leisure, Dolly Parton explained the song that comes to mind when she returns to Dollywood.
“When I drive into the area on my way here, when I see the Smokies, I think of my song ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home,'” she explained. “And, of course, songs like ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and things that have followed me through the years.”
“They’re scattered around — those memories and different songs I’ve had. But that’s the one that kind of sums it all up, actually. This is my Tennessee mountain home, and everything that’s around here is a reflection of that.”
Dolly Parton Explains How She Feels Visiting Dollywood
From the decor to the music to the attractions, Dollywood has been totally “Dolly-ized” since Dolly Parton’s purchase of the park. As such, it’s no surprise that she feels right at home within its gates.
“I do feel happy, I feel good,” she explained of visiting her beloved amusement park. “I thank God for it. You know, I’m very humbled by it. To think that so many people have dreams that they never get to see come true, and I’ve had so many come true. And they just keep going. Thank goodness to all the wonderful people who help and see my vision and my dream.”
And those who adore Dollywood just as much as Dolly herself will be happy to learn that she has no intentions of slowing down. On the contrary, she hopes to continue growing and improving the park for years to come.
“It’s very humbling to me, but it’s exciting and fun,” she continued. “To think, ‘Wow, look at this,’ you know the little park, look what we are now since 1986 when we started. But every year we grow, every year we’ve got something new and different. And we just kind of keep up what we already have, and keep our ears and hearts and eyes open for what the guests seem to want.”