Dolly Parton’s Lawyers Thought Opening Dollywood Was a ‘Big Mistake’

In 1986, Dolly Parton further expanded her empire with the grand opening of Dollywood. Since then, the park has grown, drawing millions of visitors every year. While the project has been a success, Parton explained that it didn’t always seem that way. When she first had the idea for the park, she said that her lawyers, accountants, and others worried she was making a huge mistake.

Dolly Parton wears a white dress and holds a guitar at Dollywood.
Dolly Parton at Dollywood | Ron Davis/Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s Dollywood opened in 1986

The park that would eventually become Dollywood opened in 1961 under the name Rebel Railroad. According to the Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce, the attraction had a general store, blacksmith shop, and saloon. It also featured a steam engine, which would later become an integral part of Dollywood.

By the 1970s, the park had expanded under the name Goldrush Junction. In 1977, the Herschcend family bought the park and poured over $1 million into new additions. They renamed the park Silver Dollar City, which changed in 1986 when Parton joined them as a co-owner. With her involvement, the park became Dollywood. 

A yellow billboard for Dollywood with an image of Dollywood in a red dress.
Dollywood sign | Leon Morris/Redferns

Dolly Parton’s lawyers and accountants thought the park was a big mistake

In 1982, Parton told Barbara Walters that she wanted to expand her horizons by opening a theme park.

“I have a big dream of being involved in a place in East Tennesse, my home town, up in Gatlinburg, which is one of the most wonderful places in the world, called Dollywood USA. And this would be like a fantasy city, sort of like Disneyland, and like a Smoky Mountain fairyland.” 

Four years later, Parton would realize this dream when Dollywood opened for the season. The road there was difficult, though, as many people thought the park was an unwise move.

“My lawyers, and my accountants and a lot of people that I was working with at the time said I was making a big mistake,” Parton told Robin Roberts for ABC News. “But it was such a burning idea in my gut and in my heart, and I knew it was right because I live by my gut, so to speak. And after I did start that, I got rid of all those people, started over with new people that did believe in my dreams, and it all came true.”

Dollywood is now the biggest employer in the area

It was essential to Parton that the park was located in East Tennessee because it’s where she grew up. She hoped that with Dollywood, she could give back to the community.

“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,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Parton said at Dollywood’s 25th anniversary. “Sure enough, I was lucky, and God was good to me and things happened good. We started the park and 25 years later, we’re still at it.”

With over 3,000 employees, Dollywood is Sevier County’s largest employer. It also is a great place to work, ranking on Forbe’s 2021 list of America’s Best Midsize Employers.

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