The Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash

Prior to restoration of the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess in 2012-13, Arkansas State University commissioned David Hollywood to re-create the home and its interior in virtual form in Second Life as well as the Administration Building, Popshop and examples of the colonist homes that were part of the Dyess Colony established in 1934

The Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash

Dyess Colony

In 2011 I accepted a commission from Arkansas State University to model aspects of Dyess Colony and the boyhood home of Johnny Cash. I was able to visit Dyess and to get a feel for the place while restoration work was underway. 

The Administration building exterior was nearing completion. Only the facade of the Cinema/Pop shop remained standing and the Colony store could only be identified by its foundations.

Some background on Dyess from ASU's heritage site

Dyess Colony was established in 1934 as one of the nation's first agricultural resettlement community under the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The colony was named after Mississippi County native and Arkansas's first WPA administrator, Williams Reynolds Dyess. The federal government acquired 16,000 acres of land in Mississippi County and laid out the colony in a wagon-wheel design, with a Town Center at the hub and farmsteads for 500 colonists stretching out from the middle. The colony's centerpiece was a large Greek-Revival Administration Building dedicated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1936. Colonists recruited to take part in this cooperative experiment included the Ray and Carrie Cash family. They moved from Kingsland, Arkansas, in 1936 with their children, including 3-year-old J.R. Cash (later known as Johnny Cash). The country music legend grew up in Dyess, graduating from Dyess High School in 1950.


Virtual Dyess

Working from the 1935 drawing of Dyess, the architect's plans for the restoration of the Administration building and images of the Pop Shop in its heyday, I set about recreating the feel of Dyess in the virtual world, Second Life. A decision was made to include samples of the homes on offer to colonists.  Joanne Cash provided drawings that indicated how the interior of the Cash home was layed out in the 1940s. Residents of Dyess also came forward with their recollections of the town and the Popshop.

So, armed with these provisions and my imagination, an unfamiliar world in an unexpected location was gradually brought to life in Second Life.

The administration building immediately sets the tone for Dyess. Neo-classical, plantation-esque it refers to a golden age - to Greece, to the American tradition and to the style emerging from Hollywood in the 1930s. I immediately think of David O. Selznick's studio and naturally of Tara. The use of white throughout the town, followed through in all public buildings and the colonists's homes, would have been picturesque in its day. From swamp to utopia in just a few years! Dyess is emblamatic of the New Deal projects that were to be rolled out across the country during the Depression.

The Cash Family Home: Exterior

Each colonist was provided with acreage and a mule as well as the resources to build their own home, barn and a chicken coop. Working in a cooperative, over time, the farmers would eventually own the land and their home.

The Cash home is typical of the two bedroom version of homes on offer to colonists. The arrangement of pump, outbuildings, trees, petunias in the window box and porch swing are all based on Joanne and Tommy Cash's recollections.

The Cash Family Home: Interior

The interior walls and ceiling were never painted. The original linoleum rug in the living room was in place when the home was purchased in 2011.

Carrie's piano was by the front door and a battery powered radio could be pulled out to sit on the singer sewing machine on occasion. Ray Cash sat in his armchair by the radio and monitored the volume and amount of radio time to conserve the battery. The kids sat on the floor or sofa straining to hear their favourite programs of an evening. 

When the Mississippi burst its banks, as it did periodically, the valuables were lifted onto tables and put high on the chifferobes and sideboards. There was a sign on the ice chest in the dining room that could be hung in the window to let the Ice Man know how much to leave.

The Cash Family Home: Restoration

Arkansas State University purchased the Cash family home in 2011. Much of the home had been modified and had fallen into disrepair. The restored home is due for completion in September 2013.

Cash family home prior to restoration (2011)

Interior looking towards kitchen and dining rooms prior to restoration

Cash family home November 2012