There’s a lot of history down south, even the amusement parks can’t escape it. Dollywood wasn’t always the premier Pigeon Forge theme park it is today. And unlike theme parks like Disneyland that have remained consistently branded despite multiple changes, Dollywood is nearly unrecognizable from its original incarnation.
1. Rebel Railroad
Dollywood got its start as the Rebel Railroad in 1961. (In case you were wondering, the word “rebel” refers to the term often self-applied by Confederate soldiers and supporters during the Civil War.)
This early incarnation of Dollywood was more of a one trick pony. Guests would ride through a fake “Old Western Town” on a coal-fired steam train as scripted events unfolded around them. Most of these events involved staged robberies or attacks.
2. Goldrush Junction
In 1970, ownership of Rebel Railroad changed hands, and the park was renamed Goldrush Junction before being expanded. One of the main new attractions at Goldrush Junction was the ability to pan for actual gold, hence the name rebranding.
In addition to this “strike it rich” idea, Goldrush Junction added rides aimed at children as well as several theaters and an expanded campground and cabin area. Dollywood was growing.
3. Silver Dollar City
Less than a decade later, Goldrush Junction was sold again and once again renamed, although the money-themed naming continued. Silver Dollar City (so named because its new owners already owned a successful theme park with that name and they understood the importance of strong branding) once again set its sights on expanding.
This is where Dollywood’s famous shows started to creep into the picture. In order to preserve the park’s small town feel, the new owners invested heavily in craft booths and shows in addition to the expected new rides and attractions. It’s worth noting that Silver Dollar City added Dollywood's first indoor roller coaster dark ride, Blazing Fury, which is still popular today! (Don’t worry, the ride has been updated and serviced many times since its inception forty years ago!)
And so we’ve caught up to the present day. Since 1986, Dollywood has been a household name. And this time around, there was no change in ownership. Dolly Parton partnered with the owners of Silver Dollar City to expand the park, but there was no outright purchase. Think of it more like an artistic collaboration.
The biggest difference since Dolly Parton came around? Lots and lots of new roller coasters.
They say there’s a great story around every corner in Tennessee, if you only know where to look!