Dollywood is a theme park jointly owned by entertainer Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment. It is located in Pigeon Forge. Hosting over 3 million guests in a typical season—Presidents’ Day to the Christmas holidays—Dollywood is the biggest “ticketed” tourist attraction in Tennessee.
In addition to standard amusement park thrill rides, Dollywood features traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountains area. The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year, including appearances by Parton and her family, as well as other national and local musical acts, and is the site of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame.
The park opened in early 1961 as a small tourist attraction by the Robins brothers from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, named “Rebel Railroad”, featuring a steam train, general store, blacksmith shop, and saloon. In the spirit of the Civil War, centennial visitors could ride the train and experience an attack by Union soldiers, train robbers, and another attack by Indians. The train and its riders were protected by Confederates who fought off the attacks, thus the name “Rebel Railroad”. The park was modeled after the Robins brothers’ first successful theme park, Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock. In 1970, Rebel Railroad was renamed “Goldrush Junction” when it was bought by Art Modell, who also owned the Cleveland Browns football team. In 1976, Jack and Pete Herschend bought Goldrush Junction and renamed it “Goldrush” for the 1976 season. In 1977, they renamed it “Silver Dollar City Tennessee” as a sister park to their original Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
In 1986, Dolly Parton, who grew up in the area, bought an interest in Silver Dollar City. As part of the deal, the park reopened for the 1986 season as “Dollywood”. In 2010, Parton said she became involved with the operation because she “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.”
Dollywood has 3,000 people on its payroll, making it the largest employer in that community.
From 1986 to 2010, the park doubled in size to 150 acres (0.61 km2). In 2009, the park had a six percent decline in attendance, which a park spokesman attributed to bad weather, however, many other theme parks in the United States suffered attendance drops that year, as often happens to relatively high-priced tourist attractions in recessions. As of 2015 prices for admission to the park were $62 for adults and $49 for children.