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Heritage Sites, New Historic Dyess Colony Attraction Expected To Bring More Visitors to the Arkansas Delta

May 7, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

The introduction of the newest Arkansas Heritage Site is expected to bring more tourists to eastern Arkansas. Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash is set to open to the public August 16.
CentaraThe restoration of both the Dyess Administration Building and the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home has been spearheaded by Dr. Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at Arkansas State University – who sees the rich heritage of the Arkansas Delta as a way to spur new investment in rural communities. “Our heritage sites are catalysts for bringing businesses back into dying downtown areas and developing new tourism-related businesses,” says Hawkins. “Typically museums and heritage sites do not generate enough through admissions, gift shop sales, and rentals to be self-sustaining. Their true economic value is in the revenue they trigger by drawing tourists into Arkansas and the Delta region to spend money on food, lodging, and other retail purchases, and through the local and state sales tax generated.”

Other locations have already benefitted from their inclusion in Arkansas Heritage Sites – and brought more money into challenged communities. Since the first venue, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum in Piggott, opened in 1999, state tax revenues from travel/tourism expenditures in Clay County have increased by 74.7 percent (from $480,560 to $839,656). Poinsett County collections, where the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum is located, have increased by 42.6 percent (from $520,581 to $742,385), and travel/tourism revenues in Chicot County, home to Lakeport Plantation, increased by 41.6 percent (from $493,214 to $698,424) – significant numbers, considering that many other counties in the Delta have seen reduced returns.

Hawkins believes Mississippi County will see similar revenue jumps when this new attraction officially opens later this summer. “We have done a feasibility study for the Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash, which projects 50,000 visitors annually, spending approximately $10 million each year in the northeast Arkansas region, and creating more than 100 new tourism-related jobs. We arrived at these figures by looking at visitor statistics for the Elvis Presley Boyhood Home in Tupelo, Mississippi, the B. B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi; and other tourism sites in the region.”

Richard Davies, executive director for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, sees the endeavor as an enhancement to the area. “This very well may be a true ‘build it and they will come’ situation,” Davies elaborates. “The proximity to the other music related attractions in that area of the Delta will help all of them, and also help Dyess.”

The mayor of Dyess sees a bright future for the town. “I think it’s going to do a lot for the whole county,” Larry Sims shares. “People from all over the world will be coming to see Dyess and it’s going to make quite a difference for our area. They’re going to have a good experience while learning what life was like all those years ago.”

There has been extreme interest from the media. Both national and international journalists have already had a lot to say about the project. Dozens of articles have built up anticipation for the opening of the site; The British national daily newspaper The Guardian named the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home as one of 40 places in the world to visit in 2014. Dozens more requests for information have been received by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism – at a rate and number equivalent to media inquiries preceding the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville in 2011.

Group travel inquiries have also been numerous. Paula Miles, the assistant director for Arkansas Heritage Sites, says operators are enthusiastic. “We have a number of group tour companies that are in contact with us, including three already booked during May. There are overseas companies that want to put the Dyess project in their planning starting next year. Even without officially being open yet, we have drive-by visitors who leave messages for us from every continent, not to mention here in the States.”

The impact of a typical motorcoach daytrip to an attraction is approximately $3500 a day – which includes attraction entry, meals consumed within the host community and gift shop purchase for an estimated 50 people per tour bus. For overnight stays, that number increases to approximately $5000 a day.

Tracy Morales, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s group travel manager, says itineraries are already being built, connecting not only the Arkansas Heritage Sites in the Delta but also Graceland, the Elvis Presley home in Memphis. The two properties lie just 57 miles from each other. “When I go to shows all across the country, I tell people ‘If you think Elvis is great at Graceland, I have something better!” Morales states. “With Johnny Cash and the Historic Dyess Colony, this may be the attraction that opens up Arkansas to tour operators like never before.” Two other properties in Tennessee have their own solid Johnny Cash connections – the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson and the Johnny Cash Museum and Event Space in Nashville. In Arkansas, interpretation at the Guitar Walk in Walnut Ridge shares Cash’s ties to the juke joints that once lined Rock N’ Roll Highway 67.

Money for the Historic Dyess Colony project has come from several sources – including an annual Johnny Cash Music Festival now in its fourth year. The event, which takes place at Arkansas State University’s Convocation Center, features country music artists who donate their performances and in many cases their travel expenses as well. Proceeds from the annual celebration have raised $1.9 million dollars towards a goal of $3.2 million for the Johnny Cash Boyhood Hometown Project.

Much of the funding for all Arkansas Historic Sites has come from grants and state entities. For instance, the Arkansas National and Cultural Resources Council (ANCRC) has been instrumental in providing funds for all of the sites, including $775,600 for the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center, $615,000 for the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, $4,925,000 for Lakeport Plantation and $1,450,500 towards the Dyess Administration Project. Governor’s and legislative special appropriations have also gone to back these sites, and several national grants have been given, including funds from National Scenic Byways, Save America’s Treasures, Urban and Community Forestry Assistance and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, among others (source: Arkansas Heritage Sites website,

The impact of Arkansas Heritage Sites has been substantial to the communities that host them. Joanne Bush, mayor of Lake Village, says the addition of Lakeport Plantation has added a new facet to tourism in the southeast Arkansas town. “The people that come to tour our city certainly have to eat and sleep somewhere – so it’s been a great asset to the city both as a tourist attraction and an economic development tool – because tourism is, of course, an industry. People who come to see Lakeport Plantation also shop at our stores and eat in our restaurants and stay in our hotels.”

For more information about Arkansas Heritage Sites, Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash or the Johnny Cash Music Festival, contact Arkansas State University Historic Sites executive director Dr. Ruth Hawkins at (870) 972-2803 or Further information can also be found at

For additional information or photographic support, contact Kat Robinson, ADPT communications manager, at (501) 682-7606 or

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