How Dolly Parton Came up With the Name for Dollywood

Most musicians don’t have their own theme park. But Dolly Parton isn’t like most musicians. The Queen of Country has always believed she can do just about anything she puts her mind to. And in the early ’80s, she started putting her mind to creating a gigantic theme park in her home town of Pigeon Forge, TN. Here’s what Parton’s said about manifesting Dollywood in the early days of it’s creation, including how she got the idea for the name.

Dolly Parton standing in front of the 'Dollywood' sign at Dollywood
Dolly Parton | Ron Davis/Getty Images

Dollywood wasn’t always Dollywood

Parton didn’t build Dollywood from the ground-up. The park had previous lives before being dedicated to the country music legend. The destination was first a small attraction called Rebel Railroad before changing its name to Goldrush Junction. Then, the land was bought by Herschend Enterprises and renamed Silver Dollar City. Of course, when Parton bought the amusement park, it’s title changed for the final time to Dollywood. Dollywood visitors might recognize the park’s steam engine that rides through the Great Smoky Mountains. This is from the attraction’s first iteration as Rebel Railroad. The park has changed significantly since it first came about over 30 years ago, but the steam engine ties Dollywood back to its original roots.

Dolly Parton’s idea for Dollywood in 1983

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In 1983, the “Dumb Blonde” singer spoke to radio broadcaster Terry Wogan about an idea she’d been working on.

“There’s a place in East Tennessee called Gatlinburg, in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is one of the biggest tourist areas in the United States, and I happened to have been born and raised in that part of the country,” she said, as recorded in the book Dolly on Dolly. “And there will be a new park — a new city, actually — called Dollywood USA, and it’s like a mountain fantasy, like Disneyland, only it will be in the Smoky Mountains. I would say that within three to five years that it will be a big, big park. We’ll have a golf course, I’m gonna have a race track, we’ll have all the fantasy things. It’s a major dream of mine. . . very similar in nature to Disneyland, only there will be many, many other things: canoeing, horseback ridin’, campin’ out, and actually, sort of a southern way of life, a combination of all the wonderful things of this world that people look for.”

How Dolly Parton landed on the name Dollywood

In 1986, Parton told People how she got the idea for Dollywood.

“A few years back, when I first started seeing the Hollywood sign, I kept thinking how cute it would be if I could change the H to a D and see how long it would take anybody to notice,” she said. “It just popped into my mind that it would be a good name for a park.”

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One of the reasons Parton wanted to build Dollywood was to give back to the community she grew up in.

“I 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,” she said, reported Tripster in 2017.

The site also reports that Parton’s financial advisors recommended against purchasing the park because it was too risky. Thankfully, she didn’t listen to them. Today, Dollywood has over 1,000 employees and the park’s annual revenues are $100-$500 million.