Fans have long traveled from around the world to see the small farm house in northeast Arkansas that Johnny Cash often talked or sang about. After years of restoration work, it is now officially open as a musuem. A grand opening ceremony was held Saturday, drawing a large crowd to the town circle in Dyess.
Afterward, people with tickets began touring the small house, just outside of town. The original wooden walls and flooring have been restored and furnishings are identical to how it looked when Cash grew up there, says his surviving brother and sister, who helped in the restoration process. Family photos also show what the Cash family looked like at the time.
Before Saturday’s ceremony, his daughter Rosanne Cash brought her daughters to see it, calling it an emotional moment.
"I just had an experience of taking three of my five children into my dad’s childhood bedroom and the four of us stood there and wept," she said.
"It was the oddest sensation of thinking of my dad as a little boy in that very spot and what if he could have seen his middle-aged daughter and three of his grandchildren walk in that room, how would he have felt? Could he even conceive it? It was too much."
Ray and Carrie Cash moved with their kids to the town in 1935, which was created as a Depression-era agricultural resettlement community.
During Saturday's ceremony, hundreds gathered on the hot August morning in front of the Dyess Administration building to listen to speakers.
Johnny’s younger brother Tommy and Sister Joanne were among those who addressed the crowd.
"It’s such a bittersweet time for Tommy and me. They say you can’t go back, but today we did go back and walk in the house where we were both raised. It’s just very emotional for me," said Joanne Cash Yates.
"I didn't know we were poor, but someone told us we were," said Tommy Cash. Despite the conditions, Cash said he had a very happy childhood.
"Mom and daddy worked really hard and I don't know how in the world my mother and daddy raised seven kids without any electricity or running water."
Rosanne Cash, who has become an accomplished performer in her own right, told the audience she typically turns down requests to take part in Johnny Cash projects, but said this one was different.
"Arkansas State University said they wanted to purchase the home and restore it. Would the Cash family support it? We all said yes," she said.
"We have all been onboard from day one because this is real, it’s true, it’s authentic. It’s the thing that would have meant the most to my father. I don’t speak for him, I don’t give him opinions since he has passed away, but this is one thing I can say for certain. This would have meant more to him than any other honor, any Grammy, any gold record, this.”
The ceremony was concluded as many of Johnny Cash's concerts were, with a group performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Much of the restoration work was funded through a series of concerts held each year at Arkansas State University beginning in 2011. Country music legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Bobby Bare are among those who have taken part.
The project has been overseen by Ruth Hawkins, director of ASU's Arkansas Heritage Sites program. She says he biggest challenge was securing the home's foundation. Because it was built on gumbo soil, which constantly shifts and caused the structure to become unlevel, Hawkins says they lifted the home from its foundation, removed the soil and poured a concrete trench eight feet deep in the ground. That was covered by a layer of higher quality soil, with the home then set back in place.
"So literally most of our money went into the ground," Hawkins said.
Those interested in visiting the restored Johnny Cash home can learn more here.