Great River Road 25 - Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, Dyess, AR

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.

In researching what to do along the Mississippi River in Arkansas the Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash came up.

We’re all fans of Mr. Cash’s music so were interested in visiting his boyhood home.

Disclosure: The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism graciously waived the normal admission fee for us. If you go, see the Cash Boyhood Home Website for current admission fees.

The Backstory

The greater backstory to the Cash family moving to rural Dyess, Arkansas is that they moved there to take part in a federal “Colonization” program that we had never heard about.

It’s the early 30’s.

The nation is still suffering from The Great Depression.

And getting hope through FDR’s New Deal.

The New Deal created the colony at Dyess, AR along with other colonies intended to get experienced farmers off the welfare rolls and into productive lives again.

A New Start

The Cash family moved to Dyess in 1935, getting a government-provided house, acreage, a barn, a chicken coop and a mule.

The expectation was that the Cash family and other colony members would repay the government for this package over time by clearing the land and raising profitable crops.

The family lived in this home for around 20 years.

Start of the Mass Produced House?

The government offered colony applicants a choice of a few house floorplans in order to build houses more efficiently.

This was decades before the post-WW11 Levitt-town style housing booms, so could be the earliest occurrance of mass-produced houses in the US.

Song Fodder

We listened to the Johnny Cash song Five Feet High and Rising on the way into Dyess. Although the Mississippi River is miles away it wasn’t hard to imagine the flood described in that song.

In the version we listened to Johnny ends the song by talking about the blessing they found when they came “back from the hills”.

Looking at the farming in the area we understood how the newly-deposited rich river soil could be a blessing for a farmer, but scanning the horizon all we could wonder is “where are the hills”?

This is flat land as far as the eye can see.

Restoration Status

This is not a fully-realized restoration project. Construction was ongoing during our visit.

There are two main locations - the city hall in town and the Cash Home a few miles away.

City Hall

The City Hall building is done and is currently half an actual City Hall, and half a museum mostly dedicated to the Dyess Colony with two rooms telling the Johnny Cash story.

Next to City Hall the former Dyess Theater is being re-purposed to house an orientation film and gift shop. We got a tour of the in-process construction and saw the work required to salvage the front of the original theater. The rest of the building is new.

Cash Home

The house itself is done, but there is only the house. Plans call for completion of the complete “Dyess Package” of barn, chicken coop, etc.

The house is behind a fence and visible from the road but you’ll need to be on an official tour to go inside.

The Ditching Suburbia clan at the Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash

The Ditching Suburbia clan at the Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash

A tub but no water lines!

A tub but no water lines!

A bedroom at the Cash Home

A bedroom at the Cash Home

Some period artifacts.

Some period artifacts.

Looking off the back porch at the Cash Home

Looking off the back porch at the Cash Home

Momma Cash's piano.

Momma Cash's piano.

Vintage movie projectors.

Vintage movie projectors.

The Dyess Theater

The Dyess Theater

Our guide Larry Sims in front of the Dyess Theater

Our guide Larry Sims in front of the Dyess Theater

"JR" as Vice-Pres.

If You Go

While the Dyess Colony & Cash Home are listed on Arkansas.com, there are no signs from the highway. I’m told they’re working on it but hung up in Government red tape.

Point your GPS to Dyess, AR and you’ll start seeing signs once you are a few miles off the highway. They won’t be the typical brown ‘historic location’ type you might expect.

Parking

There is rough gravel parking lot and a porta-potty by the Cash Home (map), but the road is rough, also gravel and muddy when wet. You’ll be better off parking by the Dyess City Hall (map) and getting a ride to the Cash Home (provided with your ticket price).

City Hall has room to park a couple of large RV’s and there are modern restrooms inside.

Reality Check

This is still-farming rural Arkansas, not a Disney-fried tourist experience. The roads are bouncy and imperfect.

You won’t see high-end homes. You’ll see abandoned buildings and people still scrapping to earn a living from the land. You’ll see scraps of wind-blown cotton laying on the road edges.

We’ll take it over Disney any day.

Thanks!

Our thanks to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and our guide Larry Sims for his knowledge of the area. We finished up our night by watching Walk the Line just to complete the loop and see how the location had been used in the movie.

Your Favorite?

What’s your favorite Johnny Cash song?

I like many - but have to choose Get Rhythm as my favorite:

2 Comments Great River Road 25 - Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, Dyess, AR

  1. Picture of Jan GoldfieldJan GoldfieldNovember 07, 2015

    You are very close to us in Mountain View. We have space, electric and woods.  Mountain View is a Music Roots town.

  2. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkNovember 07, 2015

    Hey Jan - we’re about 3 hours away now so will have to pass.

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