Dolly Parton was born into a world on the cusp of seismic change.
I suspect there are few people who can even begin to fathom her 77-year journey.
She was the fourth of Avie Lee and Robert Parton’s 12 children. And she came into the world in a manner familiar to many East Tennesseans of her generation.
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Where was Dolly Parton born and raised?
Dolly grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
She has traveled from crushing poverty to a rising musical performer, from popular singer-songwriter to actress, from multi-talented performer to global icon.
Along the way she’s proven to possess an uncommon head for business, a heart for philanthropy and a spirit that crosses any and all social boundaries. She’s a great businesswoman, philanthropist and a legendary singer-songwriter.
But somehow that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
The list of Dolly’s peers is short, and they are titans: Bill Gates, Oprah and Michael Jordan spring to mind. These are people who used uncommon talent to transcend disciplines and rise to unimaginable levels of success.
I think Dolly’s closest comp is probably Paul McCartney, an otherworldly talented musician and songwriter who dabbled in acting, has a quick wit and whose work changed the world.
I keep waiting for some TV exec to put the two of them in a room and just let them talk, maybe even duet. It would be magnetic.
Dollywood became Dolly’s Parton’s living history
Dolly has done a lot over the years to help us understand the place from which she came – both in the larger sense and quite specifically.
Through movies, music, songs and books, Dolly has time and again turned to her art to open windows into the world that helped create her.
We’ve seen actors, under Dolly’s watchful eye, bring her parents and siblings to life. She sang about her “Coat of Many Colors” and the Tennessee mountain Christmases.
She told us about the butterflies and mountain flowers, of her parents’ struggles and her own triumphs.
What did Dolly Parton’s parents do for a living?
Today, Dolly credits much of her business sense to her father. Her farmer, despite being illiterate, is said to have possessed an uncommon acumen for turning a profit.
He worked different jobs to provide for the family. He was a farmer and also worked in construction.
Likewise, Dolly credits her mother – the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher – for the musical abilities that made her a star and for her faith to pursue that path. Dolly’s mother was a homemaker.
In many ways, she has turned Dollywood into her own living history.
From Wildwood Grove, an idealized version of the mountains of her youth, to the magic of a Country Fair and to the recreation of 50s era Sevierville in Jukebox Junction, Dollywood is – in many ways – the best way to understand the pieces of her life that make her Dolly.
But with rides.
This isn’t some armchair psychoanalysis. Dolly made her purpose clear in Rivertown Junction, where Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home sits.
Did Dolly Parton grow up in a log cabin?
Fans of Dolly Parton likely have heard her talk about her Tennessee mountain home. She sings about it in her music:
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
– “My Tennessee Mountain Home”
This famous childhood cabin home is a one-room cabin in Locust Ridge. The original cabin is still there, and the cabin at the Dollywood theme park is a replica.
It was designed by Dolly’s brother Bobby and decorated with the approval of her mother Avie Lee.
The replica home is a gift from Dolly. It’s an invitation for visitors to see what life was like in a tiny mountain community in the 40s and 50s.
The striking thing about it is just how so many people could inhabit that small cabin at the same time.
The replica of Dolly Parton’s home has a washing basin near the bedroom. And on a table, tins and jars sit in the foreground of the floral wallpaper on the kitchen walls.
The sign outside the replica reads:
This cabin is a replica of the Parton Homeplace where Robert Lee and Avie Lee Parton raised Dolly and her 10 brothers and sisters. Most of the items on display are original family treasures. The original cabin still stands at its location in Locust Ridge.
Was Dolly Parton’s family poor?
Dolly Parton famously came from very humble beginnings.
Though prosperity came to many in Sevier County, the Parton’s single-room cabin in the mountains would have been familiar to generations of her people going back to their arrival in the mountains as Welsh immigrants.
Dolly’s parents soon moved to a slightly larger cabin on Locust Ridge. But Dolly grew up in poverty that might have been considered crushing if it wasn’t quite so commonplace.
Did Dolly Parton have a rough childhood?
Humble? Yes. But rough? No. To be clear, Dolly is very careful about what she invites the public to know about her personal life. She says in interviews that she keeps pieces of herself just for her.
But when she talks of her childhood and her parents and her siblings, she seems to remember her youth fondly. Lyrics like the ones in the song “Old Black Kettle” paint a quaint and lovely picture of a simple but good life in the mountains.
We might have been poor, but we didn’t know it
We’d heard that word, but we didn’t know what it meant
Oh, we used to have such a good life
And the days that I knew then are the happiest I’ve known
And oh, didn’t we have such a good time
It’s sad to think the old black kettle’s gone
– “Old Black Kettle”
Where was Dolly Parton’s childhood home located?
The original cabin sits on Locust Ridge in Sevier County, which still exists today.
It would not have been considered out of place in the late 40s.
But by the time Dolly turned 25, the only people living in such a home would be those in the most remote parts of the mountains. Or someone clinging purposefully to the old ways.
The fact that Dolly makes all this available in the park is incredibly giving to her fans but also somewhat telling.
She knows that people are fascinated by her journey so this museum was created to sate that thirst.
But the real home is important to Dolly, too. And that is not shared so easily.
At some point, her parents – being practical mountain people – sold the old home. There’s no point in hanging on to something they no longer needed.
But Dolly sentimentally bought the land back and has fixed the home up to return it to its 1950s state.
She’s joked in interviews that she spent millions making that cabin look as poor as it did when she was a child.
Where is Dolly Parton’s Locust Ridge home?
Visitors can get to the outskirts of the original home. It is in Locust Ridge, nearby Evans Chapel.
But don’t expect to get too close. A tall fence surrounds the property, and trespassers are not welcome.
But driving around nearby, the combination of the majesty and the accompanying isolation is tangible.
It’s easy to imagine a sunny-headed girl running among the trees and up and down the hills. It’s easy to see her singing a song, chasing butterflies and fireflies and picking flowers for her mom.
I can’t fathom the journey that Dolly Parton has taken since she left Locust Ridge in the Great Smoky Mountains. Still, I can picture the place where it all started with the parts she allows us to see.
If you’re planning a trip to Dollywood, remember you can get your tickets ahead of time with Tripster.
Have you seen Dolly Parton’s childhood home at Dollywood? Let us know in the comments.
View the story version of this article here.