DYESS, Ark.—The cotton fields that surrounded the boyhood home of Johnny Cash and helped inspire his songs of hard country living have long given way to rice and soybeans. But the white clapboard house where the late country-music legend learned to sing while picking cotton with his parents still stands. So this declining Depression-era farmers colony, a New Deal experiment in improving people’s lives, is trying to turn Mr. Cash’s hometown into a tourist shrine.
With aid from Mr. Cash’s family, which is helping to raise money through a music festival next month, the house is being restored to once again showcase the modest piano Mr. Cash’s mother owned, as well as her Singer pedal sewing machine.
It will provide a peek into a time when destitute Southerners scratched out a living working little plots of land. The project, which also is receiving funds from Arkansas State University and backing from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is expected to cost $3.5 million, including the restoration of other town buildings.
Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Ark. The home is being restored along with other buildings to lure tourists to the town. Photo credit: Josh Anderson