In the years before it became Dollywood, it was first owned by the Robbins brothers from North Carolina. In early 1961, it was a small tourist attraction with a steam train, a general store, a saloon, and a blacksmith shop. It was called Rebel Railroad with a theme influenced by the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. The train riders encountered attacks by blue-coated Union soldiers, train robbers, and Indians. The train and riders were defended by the brave Confederate soldiers who fought off the various attackers.
The year 1964 brought about a name change for the Rebel Railroad. It became Goldrush Junction and with minor modifications, it brought up images of gold prospectors and claim jumpers. Away went the days of sitting under a large Magnolia tree sipping on mint juleps. This time the bad guys were plundering Indians and disreputable gold thieves. After Goldrush Junction purchased half of the flume ride that was at the ’64-’65 New York World’s Fair, it became a bigger attraction than it ever had as the Rebel Railroad. It was destined to become bigger than anyone had imagined.
After the death of one of the Robbins brothers in 1970, the park was sold to Art Modell, who was also the owner of the Cleveland Browns football team!! Art owned the park for a few years and added a few attractions. Then, in 1976, the Brown’s interest was bought out by Jack and Pete Herschend. The brothers poured about $1,000,000 into the park renaming it Silver Dollar City as a sister park to the one they already had in Branson, Missouri. Jack and Pete didn’t set out to buy an existing theme park. But, after researching the area and learning that they couldn’t put up a sign pointing the way out of Gatlinburg to the apple orchard they were considering, they discovered Goldrush Junction was for sale. They bought the Goldrush because they thought a big buyer might buy that property and they’d have major competition on a main road.
Ten years later, Dolly Parton, who had grown up in the area, appeared on a Barbara Walters tv show and said she was going to build a park somewhere in the Smoky Mountain and call it Dollywood. So, now Jack and Pete were faced with the idea of an even bigger competitor. To avoid that from happening, they came up with a proposal that would make Dolly part owner of Silver Dollar City and a name change. She took them up on their offer and in May 1986 Silver Dollar City became Dollywood.
And as they say, the rest is history.