Johnny Cash was 3 years old when his family moved to Dyess Colony, a federal project to relocate farmers during the Great Depression.
Johnny Cash’s mother, Carrie Cash, cooked for a family with seven children on a wood stove in a kitchen with no electricity. A door in the kitchen led to a back porch. A pantry with shelves stored staples and canned goods. The kitchen’s ceramic sink had two tubs, and windows over the sink looked out on cotton fields and a neighbor’s house, no longer standing.
In the dining room, an aqua ice box with white doors sat near a mahogany table with ornate pedestal legs carved into lion heads. The table was one of Mrs. Cash’s treasured possessions. At the windows, she hung lace.
I know these details because on Saturday I visited Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas, restored by Arkansas State University and opened to the public August 16. The five-room wood frame house (No. 266, Road 3) was purchased by the Cash family in 1938 for $2,183, but they moved there three years earlier as part of a federal public works project. Called Dyess Colony, the project relocated 500 Arkansas families during the Great Depression to help them build better lives.
Along with the house, each family received 20 acres of drained swamp land (three acres were cleared, the rest was up to them), a smokehouse, an outhouse, a barn, and a mule. Cash was 3 years old when he moved to Dyess, and his family lived on the farm until 1954 when they moved to the Dyess town center.
Renovated with drawings and direction from Cash’s younger siblings, Joanne and Tommy, the house includes some pieces from the family, including photos, Mrs. Cash’s piano reclaimed from a local community center, and original floral linoleum, uncovered intact under several layers of old carpet.
Visitors interested in touring the house need to purchase tickets in Dyess at the colony’s original administration building, which now houses a museum on the Cash family and the resettlement of the Arkansas farmers.
Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood home of Johnny Cash, 108 Center Drive, Dyess, Arkansas (870-972-2803)
Mrs. Cash’s piano, found in a local community center, is now back in the Cash family home. The linoleum on the floor is original.