While technically a theme park, Dollywood is much more than that. It’s the ideal family and friends getaway, offering a diverse range of entertainment experiences, authentic, natural settings, and genuine hospitality, all in the name of the park’s namesake, Dolly Parton. But do you know why she named a chapel after Dr. Robert F. Thomas?
Dolly Parton commissioned the construction of the Robert F. Thomas Chapel at her Dollywood theme park to honor the mountain doctor who delivered her a sack of cornmeal.
The Robert F. Thomas Chapel
The Robert F. Thomas Chapel is located in the heart of the popular Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The F. Thomas Chapel Every Sunday, this small, one-room church is an iconic fixture in the park. The chapel is named after the Sevier County doctor who delivered Dolly Rebecca Parton, the fourth of Robert Lee and Avie Lee Parton’s 12 children.
The Robert F. Thomas Chapel was built in 1973 and was designed to look like a turn-of-the-century country church. The church cost $35,000 to build and was designed to complement the theme park’s Appalachian theme.
The chapel was built with the support of the area’s large Christian community. The antique windows, doors, and pews were donated by schools, churches, and individuals who wanted to help the small chapel. The windows were originally from a Sevier County school built in 1806. The doors were donated in 1891 by a local Methodist church. The pews were salvaged from an old courthouse and date from the late 1800s.
Inside the chapel, a small stained-glass window behind the carved image of Jesus dates from the early 1900s. It was given by the First United Methodist Church in memory of James Davis, also known as “Deacon Davis” of Goldrush Junction. This local evangelist was hired as a roaming character by the park. He helped to keep the chapel as a symbol of faith for the community and to make Sunday worship possible in Dollywood.
Every Sunday, the church hosts a 30-minute worship service for park visitors. There is singing, piano playing, and a short, nondenominational message of encouragement during the service. (Source: Osprey Observer)
The Story of Dolly Parton’s Birth Day
Dr. Thomas was a mountain doctor and preacher on the road. Dr. Thomas made a house call to Locust Ridge, Tennessee, on January 19, 1946, when Dolly Parton’s mother was in labor, ready to give birth to the now-country icon. The Partons were impoverished and could only afford to pay the doctor with a sack of cornmeal.
Dr. Thomas was significant to Sevier County because he dedicated himself to this rural community, making over 1,000 house calls yearly. He traveled to nearby neighborhoods by Jeep, horseback, or on foot as the only physician in the mountain community. He treated patients’ illnesses, delivered babies, and performed surgeries almost always in their homes.
Dr. Thomas was frequently paid for chickens, eggs, produce, hogs, and, on one occasion, a whole cow due to the area’s extreme poverty. It was only fitting that this chapel is dedicated to the doctor who was dedicated to his faith and service to his community. (Source: Osprey Observer)
Image from Smokymntdreams