Sevierville, Tennessee, is where country sensation Dolly Parton got her start in music, but it’s also home to a literary festival and beautiful mountain views.
Musical icon Dolly Parton turned 74 on January 19, and she’s only getting better with age. The past year was an exciting one for Dolly, with eight Grammy wins, several films and series on Netflix, an induction into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame and a new Flower & Food Festival at Dollywood.
Singing on the Mountain
Dolly’s theme park has won more than 35 Golden Ticket Awards and is located in Pigeon Forge, just down the road from her hometown of Sevierville. Visitors may drive through the city where Dolly got her start on their way to the Smokies and not realize the opportunity to learn more about the country star.
By the age of 6, Dolly was singing at WIVK radio station in Knoxville, but she was also coming down from her home on the mountain to appear weekly at Cas Walker’s Grocery Store, which now houses a portion of First Baptist Church on the Parkway in Sevierville. Her first paying gig was at The Pines Theater downtown; today, it’s a thrift store named Treasures From the Heart.
Dolly went to Sevier County High School and played drums in the marching band. She graduated in 1964 and left Sevierville to become a Nashville country music star. In addition to the church and thrift store, fans can also see Dolly’s bronze statue on the courthouse lawn, a tribute from her hometown unveiled in 1987.
Across the street is Courthouse Donuts, where you can design your own confection or get a community favorite like Smoky Mountain Title Hot Chocolate. You won’t find much fine dining in Sevierville, but you will experience homecooked meals in family-friendly atmospheres at restaurants like Applewood Farmhouse and Five Oaks Farm Kitchen. The chicken and dumplings, pot roast and homemade apple butter at Applewood probably aren’t far from what Dolly’s own mama would have made. There’s also the opportunity to taste locally made wine, cider and hard candies at the Apple Barn next door.
Coat of Many Colors
Depending on when you visit, you won’t want to spend a lot of time indoors in Sevierville if you can help it. The drive down to Gatlinburg attractions is a scenic one, especially when the leaves are changing and Dolly’s playing on the car radio. Cades Cove and Sugarlands visitors centers both offer hiking and natural history exhibits. There are also plenty of scenic overlooks for those Smoky Mountain views along the way.
Dollywood offers Smoky Mountain Cabins with mountain views and hot tubs just a few miles from the theme park. In Sevierville, The Lodge at Five Oaks is a cozy retreat on the Parkway, complete with in-room fireplaces, hickory furniture and fresh-baked cookies in the lobby. You can also walk over to the Farm Kitchen next door for some griddle cakes or biscuits and gravy for breakfast.
Let Love Grow
Thanks to Dolly, Sevierville’s literary legacy includes more than just her songwriting. She launched her Imagination Library in 1995 to benefit the children of her home county. Each month, every child under the age of five receives a book, and the program has now spread to more than 1.5 million children around the world.
Each February for the past 11 years, the Rose Glen Literary Festival presents featured speakers and a luncheon keynote in celebration of Sevier County’s literary history. Organizer Carroll McMahan was a freshman while Dolly was a senior at Sevier County High School. He remembers her as being flamboyant even back then. “It set her apart,” he says. “There was a certain style she had, and it was her own.”
Rose Glen was held at Walter State Community College for the first four years and is named after a plantation on the grounds. The festival was moved to the Sevierville Convention Center to accommodate more authors and attendees from around the region. This year’s keynote speaker is Therese Anne Fowler of A Good Neighborhood, and Briarwood School for Girls author Michael Knight will also be appearing.
McMahan recounts the area’s literary history as including Cormac McCarthy, who lived in the county and set Child of God there; Barbara Kingsolver, who has Harvest Table Restaurant just two hours away in Virginia; and Wiley Cash’s character from The Last Ballad Ella Mae Wiggins, who was born in Sevierville.
McMahan says when Sevierville asked Dolly where she’d like her statue located, she said it has to be on the courthouse lawn, because “that’s the center of the universe.” Although Sevierville has diversified its attractions with moonshine distillers, Forbidden Caverns, new restaurants and plenty of museums, Dolly still looms large over her hometown.
“You could get shot for talking bad about Dolly around here,” says McMahan. “‘Coat of Many Colors’ and Dollywood are the two biggest things ever to happen to this area.”
Upcoming in Sevier County
Old Slow and Easy: Sevierville’s Railroad historical exhibit, through 2020, Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center
Smoky Mountain Winterfest Celebration, through February 17, Sevierville
Rose Glen Literary Festival, February 22, Sevierville Convention Center
Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival, May 8-June 14
16th Annual Bloomin’ BBQ & Bluegrass, May 15-16, downtown Sevierville
Go to Visit Sevierville for more events and attractions.