Land of the Smokies: a review

Tim Hollis has written a wonderful book on the various–and mostly long gone–roadside attractions of Tennessee and North Carolina. His Land of the Smokies covers territory from Boone, North Carolina through the towns around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Chattanooga’s Lookout Mountain. The book, published by the University of Memphis Press, is filled with a delightful collection of color photos, postcards, and various brochures from places such as Ghost Town in the Sky, Frontier Land, and Silver Dollar City.

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Hollis interviewed many of the owners of these places, the kings of kuntry kitsch whose efforts to separate visitors from their dollars took the form of Gatlinburg’s Tour Through Hell, Pigeon Forge’s Porpoise Island, and Fabulous Fairyland, also in Pigeon Forge. He chronicles the celebrity theaters of the Smokies, which brought Louise Mandrell, Lee Greenwood, Anita Bryant, Archie Campbell, Jim Ed Brown, and Helen Cornelius to the stage.

The biggest star of the Smokies, and the one most associated with them now is Dolly Parton. Hollis tells an interesting tale of how Dollywood came about. First there was Rebel Railroad in Pigeon Forge, which begat Goldrush Junction, which begat Silver Dollar City, a combination of steam-powered train, amusement park rides, and demonstrations of mountain crafts.

In the mid-1980s, Dolly Parton mentioned in an televised interview with Barbara Walters that the singer was going to build an amusement park near the Smokies. The owners of Silver Dollar City, realized that Dolly would prove a formidable competitor, made her an offer to become a partner in their enterprise and changed its name to Dollywood. Those Silver Dollar people made a very smart move; Dollywood has become the largest tourist attraction in the state.

Hollis has written a book that will pique the memories of kids of a certain age who implored their parents to take them to Tweetsie and Rock City and the like, a time when billboards and brochures and painted barns pulled in families to one and then another roadside attraction. He traces the evolution of attractions from small parks that were often vision of just one man to multi-million dollar cash extractors that have utterly degraded the experience of visiting the Smokies.

Perhaps suffering from over exposure to his sometimes corny subjects, Hollis writes with a style that comes across as polyester striped pants matched with a plaid jacket and an electric tie. Exhibit A: “(Dolly) Parton obviously did not obtain Nashville superstar status by being a boob.”

Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk.

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