‘Round Here: Sevierville, Tenn.

‘Round Here: Sevierville, Tenn.

dolly parton mural inside the pines downtown. photo provided by the pines downtown.

"In the 1950s, when Pigeon Forge was a quiet farming valley and Dollywood a patch of woods, a young, flaxen-haired girl lit the country music world on fire when she climbed atop an apple crate just to reach the mic at Sevierville’s Pines Theater."

Tourism success has its downside. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is ground zero for all things Dolly Parton, including her famed theme park Dollywood. That’s great for the economy, but not my commute. I work in Pigeon Forge but live 42 miles away. The drive can take as long as one and a half hours when Dolly comes back to visit or there’s a car show or convention in town. Thankfully, I know some shortcuts.

One takes me through the hamlet of Sevierville. Most people don’t know it, but this is Dolly Parton’s real hometown. In the 1950s, when Pigeon Forge was a quiet farming valley and Dollywood a patch of woods, a young, flaxen-haired girl lit the country music world on fire when she climbed atop an apple crate just to reach the mic at Sevierville’s Pines Theater.

On a recent night, as I cut through town, I saw lights on at the Pines, which had long sat dark. The building changed hands many times over the decades since it hosted live shows with country music legends. Turns out, I was driving by the old girl’s grand re-opening. This classic stage venue is now The Pines Downtown — an upscale entertainment hall with bowling, live shows, and delicious food that gives a nod to the theater’s star-studded history, like Carter-Cash fried pickles.

In its heyday, the Pines was the place to be seen. Performers like Roy Acuff, June Carter Cash, Archie Campbell, and Chet Atkins all graced its stage, but a local, blond girl made the biggest impression. On Saturday nights, the theater was home to the Farm and Home Hour, a radio and television variety show hosted by a character of a man named Cas Walker.

When she was just ten years old, Dolly’s uncle Bill would bring her down to be on the show. “I was singing on TV before we even owned one!” she once said.


Cas had a few promotional gimmicks to get folks to his shows, including a greasy pole with a hundred-dollar bill waiting on the top. Anyone who could climb the pole and get the money could keep it.

And this may be where Dolly’s do-whatever-it-takes determination first began. Even though she was at the theater to sing, this young lady did something very un-ladylike one night. She went outside; rolled around in dirt and gravel; and back inside, shimmied up that pole to grab the $100 bill. For a poor mountain family like hers, this was a small fortune at the time.

People swore she cheated or the contest was rigged. After all, Dolly was a performer in the show. But the pole wasn’t part of her act. She was there to sing. And sing Dolly Parton did, wowing audiences night after night.

Today, people continue to be wowed at The Pines Downtown, which is home to duckpin bowling, giant Jenga, trivia nights, a bar with terrific food, and — yes — live performances.

When I recently met a friend there, I looked for that greasy pole, but it was nowhere to be found. I doubt I could climb it anyway, and $100 wouldn’t even pay the deductible on my visit to the ER. I did, however, find wonderful reminders that Dolly and all those other folks once belted out tunes. You could almost still hear their voices echoing in the rafters.



Sevierville has been undergoing a huge revamp. It looks nothing like the downtown I walked through in the 90s when I first moved to the area. Back then, there was a thrift store, fabric shop, and a florist. The rest of the buildings were mostly lawyers' offices or abandoned.

To learn more about how change happened, I met with Austin Williams, a young developer who has renovated many old Sevierville buildings for new businesses, some of which he personally owns. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, while tourists paraded around the town, we sat by the window at his restaurant Trotter’s Whole Hog BBQ. Its home was originally the showroom of J.C. Trotter Ford Motor Company, but that’s not the only reason it’s named Trotters. Turns out, a “trotter” is the part of a pig from the ankle down, and it’s considered a real treat by some folks. I guess that’s why “whole hog” is in the restaurant’s name.

Austin explained that he and his wife used to drive to restaurants an hour away because most local ones were chains or spots for tourists. So they joined Sevierville Commons, a group that was revitalizing downtown by making streets more pedestrian-friendly and creating spaces for events. That led to the redevelopment of old buildings. As Austin and his partners launched a bevy of new retail and restaurant businesses, they found ways to honor the town’s history.

Now folks can enjoy an upscale meal at The Appalachian, which gives a nod to its early 1900s building and the area's rich history. As you walk up to the restaurant, glance down and you’ll notice a storm grate cover made from antique jail cell bars. This is one of few remnants from Sevierville’s old downtown, which was gutted by a giant 1856 fire. The restaurant — which recently hosted Dolly for dinner — serves traditional Southern fare like fried chicken with mashed potatoes and ham hock lima beans. The ever-changing menu is built around seasonally available ingredients.

Just down the street, another business Austin helped start, Graze Burgers, serves up a show-stopping, signature burger called The Local Farmer. Topped with cheddar, bacon, an egg, garden fresh tomatoes, and their special sauce, it comes with a side of Hot Rings (onion rings with kick) and pairs perfectly with a handcrafted Buffalo Bluegrass cocktail, consisting of bourbon, fresh mint, simple syrup, lime, and soda. Graze carefully sources its grass-fed beef and local ingredients. Even many of its spirits come from area distilleries, vineyards, and breweries. 




Throughout town, there are hints to Sevierville’s past. There’s a monument to the old train tracks that once ran through downtown, a mural for Red’s Café, a long-gone soda shop and the first place young Dolly ever had a burger and shake.

But before taking in all these sites, I needed fuel. I grabbed a brown sugar latte recommended by Jinx, one of the friendly and helpful baristas at Honeybee Coffee and Brewery. With warm notes of molasses, the coffee was perfectly smooth.

Honeybee is on the first floor of the renovated Central Hotel, which is where President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor stayed when they came to dedicate Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940. Once a 40-room hotel with private baths, it’s now a boutique hotel with two- and three-bedroom suites that include kitchens, fireplaces, and balconies.

Latte in hand, I moseyed to the town’s most famous landmark — a statue of young Ms. Parton. Perched upon a large rock, she holds her acoustic guitar and looks lovingly across the town. The day the statue was dedicated, Dolly said she was so proud. In reply, her daddy, Robert Lee Parton, later told her, “Now to your fans out there, you might be some sort of idol, but to them pigeons, you ain’t nothing but another outhouse.”

With that quip, you can see that Dolly’s humility and humor come honestly. In spite of his salty reply, though, Robert Lee was ultimately a softy. According to locals, he’d put a bucket of soapy water on the back of his pick-up truck and sneak into town at night to wash his daughter’s statue. 



After a selfie with the statue of Appalachia’s patron saint, I slipped into the longstanding D Garden Floratique — a floral and decor shop housed inside a former hardware store. Early 1900’s ladders still flank each side of the room, with their runners lining tall wooden shelves. Dustin Manning opened the shop over 25 years ago and, ever since, has cleverly merged his building’s original fixtures with contemporary floral arrangements and stylish home decor. All his creations are bathed in an ethereal light that shines through huge, street-facing windows.

When I asked what he thought about new neighboring businesses, Dustin said, “I’ve seen lots of changes, and they’re all good for business, 'cause I’m still here.” We both chuckled. I could see what he meant.

A few weeks later, I met friends at The Pines Downtown again. As we buzzed around the bar and munched food that was as good as any I get in bigger cities, I thought about my quirky tie to the old theater. Nearly 20 years ago, I was a Dollywood performer in a show called “Let the Good Times Roll.” On the outside, the park’s venue looked like any hometown theater, but the stage inside was set just as Dolly remembered Sevierville’s Pines Theater back in the ‘50s.

The plot was a show within a show. A bunch of us put on a play to keep the fake theater from shutting down, and I can’t tell you how many times I said the line “Let’s save the Pines, guys!”

Fast-forward a couple decades, and there I was, sitting inside the real Pines Theater getting a little teary eyed. I was so happy someone had actually done what a ragtag group of teenaged actors once pretended to do on stage. Local entrepreneurs had managed to save this important historic site and, along with it, the heart of Sevierville, Tennessee.



Jimmy Proffitt, founder of the blog The Appalachian Tale, grew up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, but he and his husband now call east Tennessee home. His writing and recipes can be found in Okra Magazine, Southern Cast Iron Magazine, and Lodge Cast Iron social. Taste Of The South Magazine included him in their Taste 50 list for 2022.