Dolly makes Dollywood a reality

Dolly makes Dollywood a reality

Dollywood officially opened on May 1, 1986. Dollywood officially opened on May 1, 1986.
Dollywood is the largest employer in Sevier County. Dollywood is the largest employer in Sevier County.

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) - Dolly Parton often returned to Sevier County to visit her family after she became a country music star in Nashville.

In the early 1980s, she would take her nieces and nephews to a Pigeon Forge amusement park called Silver Dollar City.

Ted Miller, who was general manager of Silver Dollar City, said Dolly mentioned to him at times that a theme park would be a fun business.

Risky Business

In 1982, Dolly told Barbara Walters she was going to open a theme park in the Smokies called Dollywood, although business people were advising her that it was too risky.

Silver Dollar City was transformed over the next four years until Dollywood officially opened on May 1, 1986.

Dolly confessed that despite her star power, she wondered on the morning of the grand opening, "Is anyone going to show up?"

Ten thousand people visited, double the expected number, putting food and bathrooms in short supply.

Dollywood went on to become the state's number one tourist attraction.

"Whoever said you can't go home again, I don't think they knew what they were talking about -- certainly not in my case," Dolly said.

The Heart of Dollywood

Dollywood contains areas that reflect Parton's heritage. An entire section of the park is dedicated to craftspeople and artisans including blacksmithing, a grist mill, handmade wagons and candle making.

Music is another key focus in the park. Shows there include country music, bluegrass, Gospel, and songs written by Dolly about the mountains and people of East Tennessee.

Dollywood is the largest employer in Sevier County.

"One of the things I'm most excited about giving back is the fact that this is providing jobs and this will mean more motels, restaurants and shops, not just at Dollywood, but in Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge," Dolly said.

Dixie Stampede recreates family fun

Dolly founded a group of dinner attractions called Dixie Stampede in 1988, and the original location is in Pigeon Forge.

She says the idea behind the show is "to recreate the family fun of my childhood, when we'd gather for a friendly competition and enjoy a more-than-filling meal."


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