JONESBORO — Visitors will have an opportunity to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Dyess Colony Visitors Center at the site of the former theatre and pop shop, Saturday, May 21, in Colony Circle, 110 Center Drive. Transformation of the theatre and pop shop into the Visitors Center is phase two of the master plan for the Dyess Colony restoration.
Remarks are at 10:30 a.m. Hamburgers, hot dogs and soft drinks are available at the Colony Circle site from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. From 9 a.m.-3 p.m., tours of the administration building exhibits, the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home and Visitors Center are available free of charge. Joanne Cash and Tommy Cash, siblings of legendary singer Johnny Cash, will be on hand for remarks. Tommy was once a projectionist at the theatre.
The special event coincides with the 80th anniversary of the grand opening of the original Colony Circle buildings. In August 2014, phase one, including restoration of the administration building and the Cash home, was opened to the public.
In order to preserve the heritage of the Dyess Colony, A-State personnel, led by Dr. Ruth Hawkins, executive director of Arkansas State University’s Arkansas Heritage Sites program, and assistant director Paula Miles, have worked diligently to obtain grants and private donations to restore key structures in the Dyess area. When restoration of theatre began, only the front façade was standing.
The original community building burned and a new theatre was built in 1947. Now completely reconstructed, it serves as a visitor/orientation center, featuring films, materials and other exhibits.
The colony was named Dyess Colony, as a federal agricultural resettlement community for Mississippi County native and for Arkansas’s first Works Progress Administration (WPA) manager, William Reynolds Dyess.
The Dyess Colony was created in 1934 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to aid in the nation’s economic recovery from the Great Depression. As a federal agricultural resettlement community, it provided a fresh start for nearly 500 impoverished Arkansas farm families, including the family of Johnny Cash.
The colony was laid out with a town center at the hub and farmsteads stretching out from the center. The first 13 families arrived in October 1934. On May 22, 1936, an official dedication was held on the second anniversary of the colony. The project was renamed Dyess Colony in honor of its founder, W.R. Dyess, who died in a plane crash earlier that year.
Several weeks after the official dedication, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Dyess and addressed the colonists from the front steps of the colony’s administration building.
For additional information, call (870) 764-CASH (2274).