Dolly Parton was born into a world on the cusp of seismic change.
The fourth of Avie Lee and Robert Parton’s 12 children, she came into the world in a manner familiar to many East Tennesseans of her generation.
Though prosperity came to many in Sevier County, the Parton’s single room cabin in the mountains of Pittman Center 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, where Dolly grew up in poverty that might have been considered crushing, if it wasn’t quite so commonplace.
Today, Dolly credits much of her business sense to her father, a farmer who, despite being illiterate, is said to have possessed an uncommon acumen for turning profit.
Likewise, she 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 Parton’s path from poverty to philanthropy
I suspect there are few people in the world who can even begin to fathom Dolly Parton’s 75-year journey.
Dolly has travelled from crushing poverty to 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.
The list of Dolly’s peers is short, and they are titans: Bill Gates, Oprah and Michael Jordan spring to mind; 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.
I think it would be magnetic.
How Dollywood became Dolly’s own 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 with her cabin on Locust Ridge.
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.
In many ways, she has helped turn 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 arm-chair psychoanalysis.
Dolly made her purpose clear in Rivertown Junction, where Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home sits.
Is Dolly’s childhood home at Dollywood a replica?
Dolly Parton’s childhood home at Dollywood is a replica of the original cabin on Locust Ridge.
It was designed by Dolly’s brother and decorated with the approval of her mother.
It is Dolly inviting you in to see what life was like in a tiny mountain community in Sevier County in the 40s and 50s.
The striking thing about it is just how so many people could inhabit that small space at the same time.
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.”
Again, Dolly was born into a changing world.
Is Dolly’s cabin in Locust Ridge still there?
The cabin on Locust Ridge would not have been considered wildly 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.
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.
Dolly’s parents sold the land, but she bought it back
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 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?
You can get to the outskirts of the original home if you make the drive up to 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 in those mountains, the combination of the majesty and the accompanying isolation is tangible.
It doesn’t take much imagination to picture a sunny-headed girl running among the trees and up and down the hills, singing a song, chasing butterflies, picking flowers for her mom.
We can’t fathom the journey that Dolly Parton has taken since she left Locust Ridge. But we can go back and picture the place where it all started.
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