Visit the Johnny Cash Childhood Home in Dyess, Arkansas

 Without a good GPS, you might be hard-pressed to find Dyess Arkansas, population 400.

But people from around the world have found their way to this bump in the road in the Arkansas Delta long before Google Maps made it much easier.

And if you saw the 2005 movie “I Walk the Line” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, you’ve seen Dyess (pronounced Dice). Many early scenes from the movie were shot here at the childhood home of the Man In Black — Johnny Cash.

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Dyess Arkansas Agriculture Colony

JohnnyCash Childhood Home in Dyess Arkansas
Johnny Cash lived in this home from the time he was three years old until he left for the Army in 1951.

When the Cash family moved in in 1935, little J.R. was three years old and the house was brand new. Johnny’s biography says his momma cried when she walked into the house. It was the nicest place she had ever lived.

The Cashes were one of 500 families selected for a Depression-era project to re-energize the Arkansas agriculture industry. More than 2,500 people lived in the Dyess Agriculture Colony at the time.

historic sign for Dyess Colony

The thing is, my grandparents were farming in Arkansas during the Great Depression. I wonder if they were considered for the Dyess Colony. They could have been the Cash family neighbors. And now, it’s too late to ask.

Most homes disappeared over time, but the Cash house survived, but just barely. Locals knew it had once been home to the country music superstar. In April 2011, Arkansas State University purchased the rundown shack as a part of its Heritage Sites program.

johnny cash childhood home in dyess arkansas

ASU spent $350,000 stabilizing the 900 square foot house, returning it to its original condition. Johnny’s younger siblings, Tommy and Joanne, served as consultants. The family donated many original items back to the house, which opened to the public in April 2014.

Most visitors over the years saw the house in its deteriorated condition. They left with the idea that that’s what the house looked like when the Cashes lived here. But ASU works to dispel that perception by explaining the bigger story of the Dyess Agriculture Colony.

Johnny Cash’s Childhood Home in Arkansas

sign for Dyess Arkansas, boyhood home of Johnny Cash

You’ll need to begin your tour at the Dyess Colony Museum a few miles away from Johnny Cash’s childhood home. Located in the former Dyess Colony administration building, the museum is one of several buildings renovated with funding and assistance from Arkansas State University.

I love reading the notes that had been left at the house by fans from around the world.

“I saw you on tour many times and remain your biggest fan. Rest in Peace my friend,” writes one visitor from Cardiff Wales. Other notes have been left by travelers from Finland, Japan, Germany and Australia. A couple from Belgium wrote that they had twice been to Arkansas to see where the Man in Black had called home.

Dyess High School in Arkansas

The Johnny Cash story is fascinating itself. But, learning about this unique economic initiative during the Great Depression provides greater understanding of the world into which Johnny Cash was born.

This knowledge is a bonus to fans who come primarily because of their passion for the man who work black “for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.”

The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival each October celebrates the Agriculture Colony. It honors all of the people of Arkansas who lived here during such a challenging time in global economics. Johnny Cash was just one of those people, but a visit to his boyhood home in Dyess Arkansas helps you understand them all.

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