Wild West Schlock and Rock City

What Dollywood, few others wouldn't


by Clark Stooksbury

Tim Hollis might best be described as an historian of postwar Americana, roadside attractions division. Although some of the tourist traps, theme parks and teepee-shaped lodgings that Hollis chronicles in The Land of the Smokies: Great Mountain Memories (University Press of Mississippi, $25) predate World War II, most of them flowered in the years after the war along with the Baby Boom generation and the interstate highway system.

Hollis defines the â“Land of the Smokiesâ” as roughly ranging from Boone and Blowing Rock in western North Carolina to a host of tourist spots in the Chattanooga area, including Rock City and Ruby Falls. At the heart of it all lies the tourist Mecca of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area.

Numerous themes repeatedly pop up in the never-ending quest to separate tourists from their money. Cherokee Indians were a big draw, as long as they knew how to play the tourist game. Imagine an accurate depiction of an 18th or 19th century member of the Cherokee tribeâ"as in the iconic painting of Sequoyah, with a turban and a pipe; pointing at his alphabet as if to say â“hey, I invented an alphabet.â” That look didn't draw the tourists who expected Indians in the Smokies to look like those from Central Casting. So local North Carolina and Tennessee Cherokee donned feathered headdresses and had their photos taken with tourists for moneyâ"an activity called â“chiefing.â” This was at least mildly controversial, as Hollis writes, â“there were grumbles from tribal leaders and historians who wanted to remind everyone that the Cherokees never actually dressed that way and that the ersatz tepees in front of which most of the chiefs posed were another relic of the Western plains and movies rather than the Smokies.â”

Old West themes provided a natural accompaniment to the Plains Indian imagery and entrepreneurs happily obliged with Tweetsie Railroad and Ghost Town in the Sky, both in North Carolina. Hollis describes the evolution of one such attraction in Pigeon Forge, which began its life in the early 1960s, during the Civil War Centennial as Rebel Railroad, but would soon change to an Old West motif as Goldrush Junction. Goldrush Junction changed hands a few times and was even briefly owned by the Cleveland Browns football team. Eventually it was turned into a Silver Dollar City by the Herschend family, who owned a park with the same name in the Missouri Ozarks. In the 1980s the Herschend family turned over a part ownership of the park to Sevier County's favorite daughter and changed the name to Dollywood, and history was made.

â“Nothing has to be explained here about what a tourist magnet Dollywood turned out to be. Pigeon Forge was already experiencing a growth spurt when the name change occurred, and the years that followed would transform the formerly tiny town into a tourist strip of major proportions. Through it all, the basic structures of Dollywood are much the same ones that began during its Rebel Railroad days. . . the Western shoot-'em-up theme fired its last bullet years ago, but who can tell what might have been Pigeon Forge's fate today had it not been for that long-ago tourism craze for cowboys and Indians?â”

Naturally, Hillbilly imagery also pops up frequently in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Hollis reproduces images of Lil' Abner 's Mammy Yokum, in Neon at the Mountaineer Inn in Asheville, N.C., and of an ad for â“Wilsons Restruntâ” in Townsend, which featured the â“best vittles in the Smokies,â” and was â“recommended by Cousin Clem.â”

At the southern edge of the region covered in The Land of the Smokies lay several tourist destinations in the vicinity of Chattanooga. Rock City, on the Georgia side, became a legend because of the famous barn ads that would appear across much of the eastern half of the country with messages such as â“'Twould be a pity to miss Rock City.â”

The Land of the Smokies is clearly a labor of love on the part of Tim Hollis. He has left no stone, brochure, or fiberglass dinosaur unturned in order to tell the story of the Land of the Smokies . This is the latest in a series of books on Southern tourist attractions by the same author, who has clearly spent many a summer vacationing in the Southeast. Smokies is beautifully illustrated with photographs and tourist fliers, largely from the author's own collectionâ"but for its compact size it might be called a coffee table book.


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