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Water running on the Dollywood Grist Mill.

5 Things at Dollywood You Didn’t Know Were Inspired by Dolly Parton’s Life

The Dollywood theme park is unique in that its identity isn’t tied to blockbuster movies or famous cartoon characters. In contrast to other parks around the country, Dollywood is primarily the vision of one person: country superstar Dolly Parton. Dolly’s fingerprints are all over the theme park, which makes Dollywood feel more grounded in reality, and more personal. While some references to Dolly’s music and career are easy to spot, there are also less obvious allusions to Parton’s life that you may not have noticed. Visit My Smokies did a little research to find out how these five things at Dollywood were inspired by the life and times of Dolly Parton:

1. ButterfliesA butterfly flower arrangement at the entrance to Dollywood.

Anyone who has visited Dollywood can confirm that there is no shortage of butterfly images at the theme park. In fact, the “w” in the Dollywood logo is replaced with a butterfly! Guests at Dollywood will also see a colorful butterfly flower arrangement at the entrance to the park, an enormous butterfly design adorning Dolly’s Closet, and many other winged beauties.

What accounts for the park’s butterfly motif? Fans of Parton’s music will know that Dolly had a big hit with the song “Love is Like a Butterfly” from the 1974 album of the same name. However, Dolly’s fascination with butterflies started much earlier, as she explained in a recent interview:

“Butterflies are my symbol. As a child, I used to get lost chasing them and got my butt whipped for wandering too far off. So we have butterflies everywhere.”

We’ve read that Dolly loves butterflies so much that the swimming pool at her home near Nashville has a butterfly design at the bottom!

(See Also: 15 Dollywood Tips and Tricks for Saving Money at the Theme Park)

2. The Country Fair Area of the Park

One of the most popular sections of Dollywood is the Country Fair area. Featuring carnival games, a Ferris wheel, kiddie rides, and more, this part of the theme park truly captures the spirit of an old time fair.

The inspiration for Dollywood’s Country Fair came from Parton’s childhood. Although Dolly grew up very poor, her school would organize trips to the country fair. Dolly has said that a special visit to the fair once a year “was the biggest thing in the world to me”.  

The Country Fair at Dollywood.Although she loved going to the fair as a child, Dolly is actually afraid of roller coasters! Explaining her fear of coasters to an interviewer, Parton said “ I’ve got too much to lose — like my hair! Lord knows what else could fall out of me. I can think of a lot of other things I’d rather do than be scared to death [on a coaster].”

It’s safe to say that Dolly probably won’t be riding the park’s new Lightning Rod Roller Coaster, the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world!

3. Aunt Granny’s All-You-Care-To-Eat Buffet

Aunt Granny’s Buffet at Dollywood serves up mouthwatering Southern favorites like fried chicken, fried fish, cornbread, biscuits, mashed potatoes, and an endless variety of desserts. Have you ever wondered who “Aunt Granny” is and where her unusual name originated?

“Aunt Granny” is what Dolly’s nieces and nephews call her. The distinctive nickname comes from the fact that Dolly helped to raise her younger siblings. With 12 children in all, the Parton parents had their hands full, so the two youngest girls, Freida and Rachel, moved to Nashville to live with Dolly. In an interview, Freida explained the origin of the Aunt Granny moniker:

“Dolly raised us. Dolly doesn’t have any children, and me and Rachel went out to Nashville in ’64 when I was 11. Rachel was one year younger than me. That’s why all of her nieces and nephews call her Aunt Granny. ‘Aunt’ because that’s what she is and ‘Granny’ because she raised us.”

4. Stone Soup at The Song & HearthA bowl of vegetable soup.

If you dine at The Song & Hearth restaurant at Dollywood’s DreamMore resort, you will find “stone soup” on the menu. This unique dish was actually something that Dolly’s mother would prepare for the family. Dolly reminisced on her mother’s special soup in a recent interview:

“My mamma used to make stone soup. She’d tell us the legend and send us out to clean up rocks. We didn’t have that much food. If a child was going through something, she’d choose that child’s rock to put in the soup to make us feel a little more special. So we have stone soup at the restaurant.”

Of course, the soup consisted of more than just a rock in water! The dish would vary according to whatever was in season, but it often included potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and cabbage. It was the stone, however, that allowed young Dolly and the rest of her siblings to feel like they had contributed something special to the dish.

In this clip from the Hallmark Channel’s visit to Dollywood, Dolly demonstrates how to make her mother’s stone soup:

5. Robert F. Thomas Chapel

While most of the connections between the theme park and Dolly Parton’s life were deliberately planned, one was a happy accident. Back in the ‘70s, the theme park that would become Dollywood was called Goldrush Junction. In 1973, Goldrush Junction added a chapel dedicated to Robert F. Thomas, a doctor and minister in Sevier County who made as many as 1,000 house calls each year.

When Dolly Parton took over the theme park in 1986, the chapel took on a new significance because Robert F. Thomas was the physician who delivered Dolly! Since he didn’t have money, Dolly’s father paid Dr. Thomas with a bag of oatmeal for his services.

To learn more about the history of the theme park, read our blog about Dollywood’s 30th Birthday!