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Dreamsong Theater
May 30, 2024

When you explore all of the thrill rides, award-winning shows, and culinary delights of Dollywood, it may seem hard to believe that the 165-acre park once started as a small-scale railroad attraction with just a few shops! Well before roller coasters like the Wild Eagle, Lightning Rod, and Thunderhead soared through these mountains, there was just a coal-fired steam train for visitors to enjoy! Here are 4 fascinating things to know about the history of Dollywood:

1. Beginnings as the Rebel Railroad

old railroad the history of Dollywood

Dollywood traces back its roots to 1961 when the Rebel Railroad first opened on the site! The Robbins Brothers from North Carolina opened up this attraction that featured a train ride named Klondike Katie as its headliner, as well as a general store, blacksmith shop, and a saloon for visitors to enjoy. The Robbins Brothers had created a winning formula as guests were intrigued by the Smoky Mountain way of life and couldn’t wait to see what the Rebel Railroad had to offer! Little did the Robbins Brothers know that they had set the framework for what would later become the most popular attraction in Tennessee!

2. Change of Ownership and Renaming to Goldrush Junction

The Rebel Railroad underwent a change in ownership and name in 1970 when it was purchased by Art Modell, who owned the NFL's Cleveland Browns. Although the Rebel Railroad was renamed Goldrush Junction, the experience stayed the same, and guests still enjoyed the 5-mile train ride into the foothills of the Smokies - complete with mock Indian attacks and train robberies! A major new addition was the log flume, which came from the New York World's Fair. Other new attractions included an outdoor theater, log cabins, a campground, and several children’s rides. In 1973, the Robert F. Thomas Church was constructed in honor of a well-known doctor in the Sevier County area.

3. New Owners Change the Name to Silver Dollar City

Rancher's Revenge

For one single season in 1976, Goldrush Junction was simply known as Goldrush. The park underwent yet another name and ownership change in 1977 when Jack and Pete Herschend of Branson-based Herschend Enterprises purchased Goldrush and changed the name to Silver Dollar City Tennessee. The Herschend Family were no strangers to the attraction industry as they had been running the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, MO since 1960. After buying Goldrush in 1977, the Herschend Brothers contributed more than a million dollars in improvements on the way to opening Silver Dollar City Tennessee. The park enjoyed a steady growth in attendance and new additions to the park were made throughout the early 1980s.

4. Silver Dollar City Becomes Dollywood

The Herschend Brothers soon welcomed another much-loved and recognizable East Tennessee tradition to the mix - entertainment superstar Dolly Parton! Not only would Dolly share her entertainment expertise and her love of the Great Smoky Mountains, but she would also share her name as what had been Silver Dollar City opened in 1986 as Dollywood! Since that time, Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Enterprises have remained partners in Dollywood and continue to invest in the park today!

Now that you know about the fascinating history of Dollywood, don’t miss the chance to experience all of the rides, shows, and attractions that the world-class theme park has to offer today! Check out all of the rooms at our hotel in Sevierville TN today to stay just minutes away from Dollywood and all of the other exciting attractions throughout the Smokies!

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