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A Look Back at the Recently Torn Down Dollywood Tunnel [Photos]

the old Dollywood tunnel

For years, the tunnel served as nothing more than a walkway adorned with remnants of the park's past, like this scene from The Flooded Mine (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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There was a time I liked to think of myself as a deep-thinker.

In fact, someone who is capable of pondering life’s great mysteries and wrestling them into something manageable.

I was a voracious reader with – I can humbly say – a good mind. 

And when you’re young, the edges of your own limitations seem distant, even permeable under the right circumstances. As we age, those limitations become sharper and less opaque.

Experience, in fact, teaches you that the same brain that allowed you to walk straight into the glass wall of the nocturnal animal exhibit at the London Zoo or walk into the wrong restroom multiple times in a calendar year is possibly not the high-functioning thinking machine you once thought it was.


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So, I find in my advancing age, that when faced with life’s bigger mysteries I turn to the great geniuses of yore. Namely, the time-tested thinkers’ mental achievements that are renowned the world over.

And when that fails, I fall back on pop culture.

The Dollywood Pedestrian Tunnel

And so it is that when Dollywood’s season opening forced me to confront the inexorable march of time that will eventually claim us all, I turned to the wisdom of Ted “Theodore” Logan who, with his partner Bill S. Preston, Esquire, went on many excellent adventures.

“All we are is Dust in the Wind,” Logan told the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.

Ok. Ted was quoting the prog-rock band Kansas but that doesn’t make it any less true.

What was it that forced me to face the inevitable future that awaits all of us?

The gone but not forgotten pedestrian tunnel, a Dollywood theme park landmark.

The Dollywood tunnel was demolished in early 2022 (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What happened to the Dollywood pedestrian tunnel?

In the park’s 2022 off-season, a decision was made to do away with the long-standing structure.

And with a swift swipe of an excavator, The Dollywood Company erased the pedestrian tunnel forever in an effort to make the walkways wider and more “user friendly”.

The public got its first real look at the change at a special event for the park’s opening in 2022.

The tunnel had, for generations, connected Craftsman’s Valley to the County Fair. It had once served as a platform for a long-since defunct attraction – The Inventor’s Mansion of Silver Dollar City.

In fact, for years, remnants of the old attraction could still be spotted behind the tunnel.

But today, the tunnel is gone, as are the remnants of the inventor’s Mansion that rested above it.

the new Dollywood walkway where the tunnel once stood
A large walkway has been constructed where the tunnel once stood (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

What replaced the Dollywood tunnel?

In its place is a truly jarring wide pathway with long rows of stone seating areas. Beside the path is a rather long retaining wall. Brown mountain dirt looms above. It’s modern and clean, with smart landscaping.

Still, for those of us who were so familiar with the tunnel, the new widened pathway is weird as heck.

I want to pause here for a minute to pat myself on the back. I wrote the following in an article about the closed Inventor’s Mansion.

“It’s appropriate that in a theme park dedicated to mountain life the remnants of a mostly forgotten relic are fading back into the scenery,” I wrote at the time. “Although, this is Dollywood. So it won’t be long until the space is rediscovered, repurposed and revitalized. Also very much in keeping with the spirit of the mountains.”

Specifically, I meant the Mansion’s leftover piece but I’m claiming credit for the whole dang thing. I called that, baby.

Read Also: Dollywood Inventor’s Mansion: The story of the lost house on the hill

A brief history of Dollywood and how the tunnel came to be

Before we delve into the details of why Dollywood made the change it did, let’s go back, way back. Back to the 1960s and Rebel Railroad.

In the beginning, the park that would become Dollywood was a simple thing.

A North Carolina developer named Grover Robbins opened a railroad-themed park towards Blowing Rock. The park was a hit because the people of the 1950s and early 60s were crazy for that kind of stuff.

Robbins quickly acquired a pair of old steam engines and sent one to Pigeon Forge in East Tennessee. Tracks were laid down and Rebel Railroad opened to rave reviews. It became a jewel in the Sevier County tourism crown.

In 1966, Robbins renamed the attraction Goldrush Junction and added a western-style shootout.

In fact, the western theme remained the same when Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, bought the whole thing in 1970. Modell kept the park for six years.

Read Also: Dollywood history: A look back at Rebel Railroad, Goldrush Junction

The Herschend brothers bought Gold Rush Junction and renamed it Silver Dollar City in 1976. It was a sister park to their Branson, Missouri attraction.

And Silver Dollar City was on the way to becoming one of the best theme parks in the United States and the premier attraction in the region – except for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

the inventors mansion
An attraction called “The Inventor’s Mansion” used to rest atop the tunnel before being torn down in 2018 (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

Looking back to the tunnel’s origins: The Inventor’s Mansion attraction

And it is here my friends, where our tunnel enters the story.

As the park grew, it was essentially a butterfly with an entrance in the middle.

On the left wing was lower Craftsman’s Valley with Blazing Fury and the Flooded Mine attractions.

On the right wing was the County Fair with the railroad, the Log Flume and the Cloud Grabber. The middle – which in our analogy would be the butterfly’s thorax? – was the Inventor’s mansion and the pedestrian tunnel connecting the two halves of the park.

The old mine tunnel was an integral part of the park’s overall theme.

a piece of the inventors mansion was spotted behind the tunnel after 2018
From 2018-2021, pieces of the old Inventor’s Mansion attraction could still be spotted resting behind the tunnel (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The Inventor’s Mansion becomes a Dolly’s Rags to Riches museum

But when Herschend Family Entertainment partnered with Dolly Parton, the trajectory of the park changed forever.

They started overhauling the park infrastructure.

The Inventor’s Mansion was one of the first things to go, if not the first project overall.

It was repurposed as Dolly’s Rags to Riches Museum before eventually falling into neglect, a strange piece of the park’s former life left to linger.

The importance of the position of the tunnel beneath the museum was lessened as the entire park grew.

The new park entrance refocused traffic as the valley and the County Fair became the distant reaches of the Dollywood property and accessible from different areas.

Certainly, Dollywood tried to make the tunnel beneath the defunct attraction useful.

It housed the Silver Dollar Arcade for quite a while. There was also a gift shop that sold rocks and semi-precious gemstones at one point.

the closed silver dollar gem mine
A “gem mine” and gift shop used to exist inside the tunnel but hadn’t been open in years. The name of the mine was a reference to the park’s name before it became Dollywood: Silver Dollar Mine (from Silver Dollar City) (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The museum above the tunnel was town down in 2018

But the arcade and gift shop were soon closed, and the former Inventor’s Mansion/Rags to Riches structure was (mostly) torn down in 2018.

Eventually, the tunnel became little more than a walkway.

There was a bit of nostalgia as some of the signs in the tunnel referred to long-lost parts of the park. Specifically, the Flooded Mine and the waterfall behind the Inventor’s Mansion.

But with the gate at the entrance to the tunnel coming down whenever the Dollywood Express came through, the tunnel began to serve as more of a traffic flow hindrance than a help.

This brings us to the current day.

There were also references to other defunct attractions from Silver Dollar City days located within the tunnel, like this reference to The Flooded Mine. The sign reads: “The tragic flood trapped many miners for days, before they were found. Ore cars were used for resque boats, and are still in use at #2 Flooded Mine” (Editor’s Note: “Resque” was intentionally misspelled) (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

So what have we lost? What have we gained?

Now, with the wide-open spaces, there’s more room for families to sit and rest and watch the train and wave as the passengers go by.

Losing the tunnel was a necessary part of the park’s progress and over the years, progress may be what the park does best.

If we’re being honest, the tunnel hasn’t served much of a purpose for years. I don’t know that it’s fair to even call it a popular landmark.

For the general public, it was a tunnel. Kids kinda liked it because it’s dark and mysterious and kids generally like tunnels.

Really, I don’t know if it’s the design of the new walkway, which is so clean and modern and new that’s throwing me off, or if it’s simply that something I’ve walked through hundreds of times has been erased from the park as if it never existed at all.

Ultimately, it was what it remains.

It was a pathway to connect areas of the park, a way to get from the Lightning Rod to the rest of Dollywood’s world-class roller coasters. And it was also a perfect place to get out of the rain when a cloudy day cut in on your summer fun but as the park transitioned from one expansion plan to another, change at that spot was inevitable.

It became a great place to get caught up in traffic as you waited for the train to pass.

The fuzziness of my own memories suggests I have little nostalgia for the tunnel itself.

However, I’m having a hard time expressing how truly odd it feels that it’s gone.

We don’t mourn for the loss of a pedestrian tunnel like we do our favorite rides from our youth, of course. But the final result is strange.

There is something deeply unsettling there that I can’t quite grasp. Something a younger me would put on his philosopher’s cap and try to grapple with. Older me, however, will simply turn to the comfort of a deeper thinker than I.


What do you think of the change? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to view the web story version of this article.

17 thoughts on “A Look Back at the Recently Torn Down Dollywood Tunnel [Photos]”

  1. That sucks lol I remember gem mining in there. I just really liked the feel and nostalgia of passing though that tunnel taking me back to my yesteryear. I probably will just take another path and avoid that way altogether lol

  2. I always liked the I Mansion. I don’t think I ever went in when it was the Dolly Museum (my loss).
    I worked the log flume in 81 (I think). Probably not much there that I would recognize anymore.

  3. My family and I love visiting the Smoky Mountains every summer. I could honestly love to live there.

  4. As with everything else, history means nothing in today’s world. The photo of the new concrete pathway makes it seem blaringly out of place in the park. Until they take away that mountain and repurpose that spot with some new ride or structure, it will remain a band-aid on an open wound. Dollywood should have left it as is until they had a permanent plan for that spot.

  5. Our family used the tunnel as a welcomed break from the sun for generations. The few benches that lined the walls were the best place in the whole park for children to nap. Where will my kids rest now like I did in the 90’s?

  6. Just sad
    It was a great place to go and cool off get away from the crowds and just relax also a great place to get out of the rain. It just feels like they get rid of stuff and don’t replace it with anything awesome…

  7. Man ima tell you everything you said was worded perfectly. I think it’s the little things that need to be left alone I know we can’t stop progress but dang before long I guess you said it write everything us just dust in the win. Thank you for this little piece of history.

  8. Like others I loved cooling off in the tunnel during hot summer days. It was always perfectly cool inside no matter how hot the day was. The park is definitely losing its charming appeal as it seems to be taking on a new identity. With new bigger faster roller coasters taking the focus away from the shows, crafts, and country charm. What was once a place for every age in a family young to old is starting to cater to a young crowd.

  9. I agree with everyone else great shelter from the blistering sun and rain it brings back many memories of the Gem mining and the arcade that used to be there also. I hope on the new path they made they will plant some kind of shade trees or something . If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  10. I was there on passholders day this year and the changes they have made to the park are terrible. I still love Dollywood but who ever did the planning of all they did this year needs to be fired. The tunnel should have stayed, it now looks like something you would see in a city landscape and takes away from the TN mountain feel the park has always had. The tram stop was moved way to far from the exit and the parking lot is in shambles. Dollywood dropped the ball on this one and it has for ever changed the history and overall feel of the park.

  11. We live in Ohio and love Dollywood. So much so, we were season pass holders for many years when our kids were younger. I’m not sure if that would be the case with some of the changes being made today. I liked some of the throw backs to Silver Dollar city and believe they added to the charm if Dollywood. If these type of unique attributes continue to disappear, Dollywood will become just another amusement park. I understand progress, but I’m not a fan of changing the cultural aspects of what made the park what it is, or was.

  12. It is sad that things can’t always stay the way that we remember them. I was thinking, though, that a nice, long, wooden covered bridge for pedestrians only, and that is lined with wooden benches could be built near the old entrance that would have that “old mountain feel and provide a cool place to rest.

  13. Another change that they made that sucks even more is the parking lot. If you don’t know already lol. Just wait until you see, and experience it, I mean wow, what a disaster. That alone ruined most of my recent visit.

  14. Guess what? I was there last week and the crowds Still back up when the train comes thru!! That tunnel was the perfect place to take a break and cool off from the hot Summer sun! I’ve been a season pass holder for many years but this time I’m DONE!!! What will they take out next?? The Blazin Fury????


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