12 Fun Facts About Dollywood

George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Few musicians are famous enough to have an entire theme park dedicated to them, and Dolly Parton has proven herself to be one of them. Her Dollywood theme park (and water park and resort) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, attracts millions of visitors each year. In addition to the rides, Dollywood is also a place to come for live entertainment, Appalachian culture, and a closer look at the life of the beloved country singer behind the park. Here are some facts about Dollywood you should know.

1. Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The town was named for an iron forge owned by Isaac Love in the 1820s. The forge, in turn, was named for the Little Pigeon River, which got its name from the flocks of passenger pigeons that used to live in the area (the birds are now extinct).

The park is located on 150 acres near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is themed around the history of the Smokys, life there, and preservation of the mountains. There's even a "multi-sensory musical experience" dedicated to the area, called Heartsong.

2. Dollywood is more than a theme park.

McDoobAU93, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Dollywood is often listed among the greatest theme parks in the country. In 2019, it received three Golden Ticket awards, which recognize excellence in the amusement industry. But the tourist destination is so much more. In addition to Dollywood’s Splash Country water park and Dollywood proper, the 150-acre complex includes cabins, space for rodeos and dinner theater, and a resort and spa. It’s also the location of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.

3. The theme park had many names before Dollywood.

Parton didn’t just decide to build a theme park from scratch one day. When she bought an interest in the park that became Dollywood in 1986, it had already been around for decades. The site first opened under the name Rebel Railroad in 1961. It featured a steam train, saloon, blacksmith shop, and other attractions themed around the history of the Smoky Mountains. In 1970, it was rebranded as Goldrush Junction and kids’ rides were added, and in 1977, it became Silver Dollar City. Parton entered the story in the 1980s and became part-owner of the park along with Silver Dollar City’s existing operators. When the park reopened as Dollywood in 1986, attendance for the year spiked by 75 percent.

4. Dollywood is the most popular ticketed attraction in Tennessee.

On some of the days soon after its May 1986 opening, traffic to get into Dollywood stretched for six miles down U.S. 441. The park had its one millionth visitor after being open for just five months; during the first season, it had 1.34 million visitors. These days, nearly 3 million people visit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, each year, making it the most-visited ticketed attraction in the state. It also consistently ranks among fan-voted lists of Tennessee’s best tourist destinations.

5. Dolly Parton wanted Dollywood to bring jobs to her community.

Parton grew up in the economically depressed area of Sevier County, Tennessee, and after she found success, she wanted to give back to her childhood home. She created Dollywood as a way to bring jobs to the community. She told the Associated Press in 2010 that she "always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.” Today, according to Mashable, Dollywood is the biggest employer in the region.

6. Visitors to Dollywood can learn about Dolly Parton’s life.

Terry Wyatt/Stringer/Getty Images

Not every part of Dollywood directly relates to its namesake singer, but there are plenty of attractions that celebrate her. There’s Chasing Rainbows, a museum featuring prestigious awards and elaborate costumes from Parton’s career. For a more intimate look at her life, guests can visit her tour bus or the replica of her childhood home where she grew up in the Tennessee mountains. Dolly grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, with her parents and 10 siblings. "We had two rooms, a path, and running water, if you were willing to run to get it," she once said. The replica—which was built by Parton's brother, with the interior created by Parton’s mother—is filled with many authentic items from her old home. The original cabin still stands.

7. Dollywood is home to one of the country’s largest eagle sanctuaries.

Dollywood isn’t just a place for thrill-seekers and music buffs—it also has something for animal lovers. The park is home to the country’s largest sanctuary for non-releasable bald eagles. Guests can walk along the edges of the 30,000-square-foot aviary and catch a glimpse of its inhabitants, or wait for a show with live birds and their handlers in the exhibit’s open-air theater.

8. Dollywood has its own church.

Want to take a Sunday trip to Dollywood without missing church? There’s a chapel on the property that holds weekly mass. The Robert F. Thomas Chapel, now named for the doctor who delivered Dolly Parton, was constructed in 1973 when Dollywood was still Goldrush Junction. It’s only several decades old, but it was designed to look like a late 19th-century Appalachian church.

9. Dollywood’s grist mill operates just as one would have in the 1880s.

Though it was built in 1982, the park's grist mill was constructed—and operates—as it would have in the 1880s. According to the Dollywood website, "Great care was taken to build the mill in a manner that would honor tradition and utilize Dollywood’s craftspeople. Lumber was sawed in the park’s steam powers sawmill, logs and shingles were split by hand, blacksmiths forged the hardware, and glass blowers made the windows. Later an electric grist mill was added, and either or both mills might be working when you visit." Each season, the mill grinds 10,000 pounds of three types of corn: yellow, white, and popcorn.

10. Dollywood also has “Doggywood.”

You can't bring your pups into Dollywood (unless they're service animals), but you can leave them at Doggywood, which opens half an hour before the park does and closes 15 minutes after Dollywood. Pets will need proof of a rabies vaccination in order to stay.

11. Dollywood hosts a number of festivals.

They include festivals devoted to BBQ and bluegrass, summer and harvest celebrations, the Festival of Nations, and Smoky Mountain Christmas. During the 2013 Smoky Mountain Christmas, the park put on Dollywood's A Christmas Carol, which featured a hologram of Parton as the Ghost of Christmas Past. “When they told me they were going to make a hologram out of me, I thought they were crazy,” Parton said. “But when I saw how real it looked on stage, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure this world can handle two Dolly Partons, but I’m excited folks will be able to see ‘the other Dolly’ reminding families that it’s not what you have but who you have, just like ole Scrooge figures out in the end.”

12. Dolly Parton hasn’t ridden any of Dollywood’s rides.

Dollywood has a number of rollercoasters and water rides, but unfortunately, Dolly hasn’t ridden them. “I don’t ride the rides. I never have,” she told The New York Times. “I have a tendency to get motion sickness. Also, I’m a little bit chicken. With all my hair I got so much to lose, like my wig or my shoes. I don’t like to get messed up. I’m gonna have some handsome man mess it up, I don’t want some ride doing it.”

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

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Apple

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15 Memorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at the age of 87.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at the age of 87.
Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Supreme Court justice, feminist, and all-around badass Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020 from "complications of metastatic pancreas cancer," the Supreme Court said in a statement. Over the course of her 87 years, she smashed glass ceilings and delivered plenty of wisdom—inside the courtroom and out. Here are some of our favorite quotes from the Notorious RBG.

1. On her mother

"My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S."

— via ACLU

2. On turning rejection into opportunity

“You think about what would have happened ... Suppose I had gotten a job as a permanent associate. Probably I would have climbed up the ladder and today I would be a retired partner. So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

— In conversation with Makers

3. On female Supreme Court Justices

"[W]hen I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that."

— In an interview with 10th Circuit Bench & Bar Conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder, via CBS News

4. On dissenting opinions

"Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, ‘my colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way,’ but the greatest dissents do become court opinions."

— From an interview on Live with Bill Maher

5. On criticism and not getting a majority vote

"I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day."

— via The Record [PDF]

6. On having it all

"You can't have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it."

— From an interview with Katie Couric

7. On discrimination

"I ... try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women."

— From an interview with MSNBC

8. On gender equality

"Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

— via The Record [PDF]

9. On feminism

"Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent."

— In an interview with Makers

10. ON her fellow Supreme Court Justices

"We care about this institution more than our individual egos and we are all devoted to keeping the Supreme Court in the place that it is, as a co-equal third branch of government and I think a model for the world in the collegiality and independence of judges."

— In an interview with C-Span

11. On the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling

"[J]ustices continue to think and can change. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow."

— From an interview with Katie Couric

12. On those Notorious RBG T-shirts

"I think a law clerk told me about this Tumblr and also explained to me what Notorious RBG was a parody on. And now my grandchildren love it and I try to keep abreast of the latest that’s on the tumblr. … [I]n fact I think I gave you a Notorious RBG [T-shirts]. I have quite a large supply."

— In an interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg

13. On being an internet sensation

"My grandchildren love it. At my advanced age—I’m now an octogenarian—I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who want to take my picture."

— From an interview with the New Republic

14. On retirement

"Now I happen to be the oldest. But John Paul Stevens didn’t step down until he was 90."

— From an interview with The New York Times

15. On how she'd like to be remembered

"Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, outside myself. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid."

— From an interview with MSNBC