Half way through Kentucky you’ll pass through a small town called Cave City with a population of just 2000 people. If you look up on the one hill in town you’ll see a building with the large letters GUNTOWN MTN. It opened in 1969 as a western themed park and operated as a roadside attraction complete with shootouts and public hangings until 2013 when it closed. In 2015 Louisville business owner, Will Russell purchased the property and changed the name to Funtown Mountain. This is where it starts to get weird.
Long story short, Will began to crack under the pressure of the property and lack of revenue. The details are unclear and terribly unfortunate but the long history of mental illness combined with stress caused Will to break his 19 year sobriety stint. The series of events were an odd blend of Willy Wonka and The Shining but in a Western town. Will began to act out publicly with multiple arrests including one instance where he was noted as “acting like a savage.” It was said he trashed the property expressing his “art.” There are remnants of paint splatters on many of the buildings, broken glass everywhere and items strewn about. He invited the public to come take what they want which created a looter like scenario. The city deemed the property unfit for human occupancy and shut it down. It is now up for auction. We are going to do our best to buy it and restore it to a Country Western, Bluegrass & Americana theme park! To take part in the process through contributions or event ticket purchases follow this link.
Here are just some of the items I found today at Funtown Mountain (Guntown Mountain). One day Muddy Roots Mountain. (Hopefully)
An old haunted house on a hill. Very “Bates Motel.”
A doll head on a table.
A forgotten bike.
A looted and trashed gift shop.
A storage closet with thousands of vintage Guntown Mountain postcards thrown everywhere.
I’m thinking this was an original Guntown sign.
Old Guntown sign. Not for the weak.
A jail cell.
A dead mannequin in a coffin.
Will Russell caught white handed.
The Guntown Mountain Opera House. Come in to the light Carolanne.
Baby bottles. I don’t know.
Paint chips for munchies.
70’s bumper cars.
In the back of a pitch dark warehouse sits a corner of circus games and animal costumes with large heads.
This on the dark hallway floor.
Some sort of fire extinguisher party happened here.
Heads on the wall everywhere.
A living room type setup in the green room back stage in the mountain top warehouse saloon complete with a coffin, love seat, chicken lamp and beer bottles on the floor.
Said chicken lamp.
Dolls on a swing on a stage in a pitch black room.
Found that head with my flashlight.
Giant clown in a dark corner.
Headless choir boy statue.
This poor guy.
Take me with you!
Funtown Beetlejuice mural in a warehouse.
Elvis Presley altar.
Chicken in the dark.
The only operational ride at Funtown Mountain.
The chairlift up top the mountain with no seats.
Thank you for taking a peak at the odd finds up at Funtown Mountain. We hope the previous owner is recovering. It’s our turn to step up to be better stewards to an American roadside attraction gem. If you’d like to take part in the process with a contribution or event ticket purchase please CLICK HERE!
A short country music history of Nashville’s Eastside
By Randy Fox
Nashville’s Music Row and Lower Broadway are well-known for their place in country music, but the hillbilly music history of Nashville covers considerably more ground than just those two locations. For fans of the golden age of hillbilly, bluegrass and rockabilly music, the neighborhoods on the northeast side of the Music City are brimming with history.
In recent years, East Nashville has become the preferred neighborhood for many of Nashville’s working-class musicians, but its pedigree as a central location to Nashville’s music community actually goes back decades. During the 1920s and 1930s, when many of the neighborhoods of East Nashville were being developed with middle-class homes, it was a popular neighborhood for just ordinary folks and some extraordinary ones too.
East High School stands in the heart of East Nashville and served as a musical cradle for four musicians who made their mark in country music. Guitarist Floyd Robinson, steel guitarist Billy Robinson, fiddle player Jerry Rivers, and bass player Bob Moore formed the Eagle Rangers in the mid-1940s while barely in their teens. Both Robinson brothers later found work backing Opry stars, as well as playing on many early recording sessions. Jerry Rivers graduated to the Drifting Cowboys, backing Hank Williams and eventually working with Ray Price, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Marty Robbins and many others. Bob Moore became one of the most recorded bass players in the history of popular music, laying down the rhythm for Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Brenda Lee, Janis Martin, and thousands of country, rockabilly, and pop recordings.
Although Bettie Page was never a musician, she surely hastened the heartbeats of many young men on the streets of East Nashville during her teenage years. An East Nashville girl born and bred, Bettie attended Hume-Fogg High School in downtown Nashville where she was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by the graduating class of 1940. Like her fellow Hume Fogg alum, big band vocalist Dinah Shore (class of 1936), Bettie’s destiny led her away from Nashville and to bright lights, bigger cities and showbiz dazzle.
Another notable resident was Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. In January 1945, Phillips began working for Nashville radio station WLAC. He and his wife Becky settled in East Nashville for several months until Phillips accepted a position with radio station WREC in Memphis. Even though Phillips lived in Nashville for only a few months, the friendships and business connections he made in the Music City proved to be invaluable when he launched Sun Records in 1952.
Although the Grand Ole Opry began its broadcasts in 1925, it would take two decades before its full effects began to manifest themselves on the Nashville music scene. From 1936 to 1939, the Opry was broadcast from the Dixieland Tabernacle in East Nashville on Fatherland Street where the Nissan Stadium stands today. After the Opry gained national popularity in the early 1940s through broadcasts on the NBC Radio Network, singer Red Foley took over Roy Acuff’s spot as the primary host of the program in April 1946. Foley’s smooth singing voice and congenial personality pushed the Opry to a new level of popularity, cementing the program’s position as the premier country music show in the U.S.
At the same time, Jim Bulliet, a Nashville-based talent booking agent launched Bullet Records, the first Nashville-based record label. From the beginning, Bullet Records released pop, country and R&B recordings, with many of them cut in Nashville at radio station WSM’s studios. In 1947, a trio of radio engineers left WSM to launch Castle Studios, the first Nashville-based commercial recording studio. That fall, Decca Records moved their country recording sessions from Chicago to Castle, and other major labels soon followed. The growth of Nashville’s recording industry and success of Bullet Records soon inspired a flurry of small independent record labels – Tennessee, Dot, Speed and others. In just a short time, Nashville was transformed into a hillbilly music boomtown, attracting musicians from across the South.
As musicians poured into Nashville, affordable housing was a necessity. In 1945, Delia and Louis Upchurch rented a spare room in their small, stone house on Boscobel Street to two members of Pee Wee King’s band. They quickly became part of the Upchurch’s extended family, and other musicians often dropped by the house for extended jam sessions.
After “Pa” Upchurch passed away in 1947, Delia opened the rest of her house to musical tenants and by the late 1940s, “Mom” Upchurch’s boarding house was the first stop for many young singers and pickers fresh off the bus to Nashville. For $5 a week, a musician could rent half of a double bed, with the understanding that it might be sub-leased while they were out on tour. A home-cooked breakfast was 75¢, supper 85¢ and friendly advice from “Mom” was always free.
Mom Upchurch became a surrogate mother to scores of young musicians. While she had strict rules forbidding alcohol, cursing and female guests, her “boys” loved her. Record producers and artists knew that if you needed a musician for a session or tour, Mom Upchurch’s was the first place to call. Mom continued to run her boarding house until she turned 80 in 1971. Over the years, her tenants ranged from future stars and songwriters like George Morgan, Carl Smith, Faron Young, Roger Miller, Stonewall Jackson, and Hank Cochran to accomplished sidemen like Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Jimmy Day, Butterball Paige, Lightnin’ Chance, Shorty Lavender, Buddy Spicher, Dale Potter, Buddy Emmons and scores of others.
Another first stop for many country musicians moving to Nashville were the trailer parks and one-room efficiency apartments on Dickerson Pike in East Nashville. Many of these bargain-priced accommodations are still there today, located near the 1950s era “meat & three,” Charlie Bob’s Restaurant that is still serving up Southern cuisine at 1330 Dickerson Pike. (Still the best Steak & Eggs in town)
As many musicians found success, they moved north from East Nashville to the neighborhood of Inglewood. Developed primarily between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, Inglewood provided a taste of suburban living with easy access to rest of the city. Many country stars purchased new homes in Inglewood during those years including Cowboy Copas, Little Jimmy Dickens, Charlie Louvin and Lester Flatt.
Opry legend Roy Acuff owned two notable houses in Inglewood. The first was a large, log home at 3614 Brush Hill Road which he lived in from 1945 to 1950. Acuff then moved to a larger house at 3940 Moss Rose Drive. Located on a high bluff over the Cumberland River overlooking where the Opryland Hotel stands today, Acuff’s large front yard was popular spot with neighborhood kids for afterschool football games.
Country star Jim Reeves lived in an antebellum mansion in Inglewood at what is now the intersection of Gallatin Pike and Briley Parkway. In a sad example of disregard for history, Reeves former home was demolished in 2005 to make way for a bank and a Home Depot. The only portion of the original estate that survives is a small log cabin in a fenced off area in front of Home Depot.
Just north of Briley Parkway, is the suburb of Madison. Once a separate municipality from Nashville, many of Madison’s neighborhoods were developed in the late 1950s and early 60s by real estate investors including Madison residents, Eddy Arnold and Col. Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager). The Colonel’s former residence, a modest stone house, still stands at 1215 Gallatin Pike South.
Sitting on a medium-sized lot, Hank Snow’s former residence at 312 East Marthona Road, hardly lives up to its name, “Rainbow Ranch.” Once strewn with Snow’s eye-popping collection of railroad lights, signs and related paraphernalia, its current ordinary appearance shows no evidence of its former colorful and flashy owner.
Other country stars made Madison their home, including Kitty Wells & Johnny Wright, Earl Scruggs, the Everly Brothers, Charlie Louvin, Floyd Cramer, Bashful Brother Oswald, Charlie Rich, Jon Hartford, and Maybelle Carter. Ira Louvin’s home in Madison became the center of interest in 1963 when he was shot six times with a .22 caliber pistol by his wife. Despite his wife telling police, “If the son of a bitch don’t die, I’ll shoot him again,” Ira survived his injuries. He continued living in the house until a traffic accident claimed his life two years later.
Just west of Madison and centered on Dickerson Road is the neighborhood of Bellshire. Developed concurrently with Madison in the 1950s, several country stars lived in the neighborhood including Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith and June Carter.
Bellshire was also the home of Starday Records. When Starday’s owner Don Pierce decided to relocate to Nashville in 1958, he chose to buck the trend and set up business far from the developing “Music Row.” Purchasing property at 3557 Dickerson Pike, he built a large studio and offices for the wonderfully diverse and often kitschy Starday Records. The studio was host to a wide variety of artists from the twisted country recitations of Red Sovine, to the high lonesome bluegrass stylings of the Stanley Brothers and even the funk-powered soul of James Brown. Although the studio and offices are now abandoned and deteriorating from years of neglect, they are still an important piece of Nashville musical history. (We would fix it up in a heart beat!)
Beginning in the late 1960s and into the 70s, Nashville underwent the same type of urban flight and suburban expansion experienced by many U.S. cities. As suburban communities such as Hendersonville and Brentwood grew just outside of Davidson County, many musicians moved to larger and more expensive homes, leaving the communities of northeast Nashville behind. But the circle remains unbroken as those same neighborhoods were rediscovered by musicians in the 1990s, leading to revitalization and East Nashville’s current hip status as the neighborhood of music in the Music City.
One new record is of original 1950’s rocker Billy Harlan. Billy worked with Chet Atkins at RCA Studio B as well as at Tree publishing. He wrote songs for many including Hawkshaw Hawkins and toured playing bass with Jim Reeves. Billy gre up best friends with the Everly Brothers. Here is a photo of Bill Harlan at the Everly Brother’s Madison home.
Billy has recently been invited back to RCA Studio B by the Country Music Hall of Fame to finish his recordings that had been shelved by Chet Atkins. A double 45 vinyl set due out on Muddy Roots Music Recordings in April of 2016.
It can be purchased HERE.
I stumbled upon this school today by chance. After a two day camping retreat at Foster Falls, Tennessee with my wife and friends I decided to drive a bit in down the country roads to explore the region. I came by an old building with a worn hand painted sign that read “BAKER’S ANTIQUES.” We had been peering in to the windows as it was closed when we heard a friendly hello from next door. It was a man by the name of Pete Baker who was eager to give a quick history of the store that was built in 1947 by his father. The original sign provided by Double Cola had the drink logo above “Baker & Sons Cash Store” still hanging on the worn façade of the old building but had been painted over with the new company name. Pete also mentioned that we should visit the Grundy County Historical Society while in town and to learn about the Highlander Folk School.
That’s when he said these words that would intrigue me for the rest of the day and ultimately change my life:
“You know, Martin Luther King Jr. used to train down here to learn about being a civil rights activist? There’s talk around here amongst some folks that Rosa Parks got the idea to do the bus thing while she was here.”
I thought he was teasing me or about to lead in to some sort of racist punch line which is all too common in the South and twice as much in rural areas like this. But I was wrong. Pete had been here since the 1940’s as a child and had seen it all. He recognized the cultural relevance and wanted us wandering tourists to know about it. I came home and went down the google rabbit hole to learn as much as I could about the school. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read about a place in a rural mountainous Tennessee that has played such a significant role in changing America in to what it is today.
The Highlander Folk School opened 1932 by activist Myles Horton, educator Don West, and Methodist minister James A. Dombrowski. It originally helped local coal miners to organize their own unions to cut down on the 12 hour work days and low wages. They received support and visits by many influential people, including Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. The school focused it’s attention on the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s. Many of the most prolific civil rights leaders came to Highlander to enrich themselves. With students like civil rights Rosa Parks , Septima Clark, Anne Braden, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, Hollis Watkins, Bernard Lafayette, Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis in the mid- and-late 1950’s you could consider Myles Horton a father of the movement and cause of social change in the South during segregation times. They were harassed by the Ku Klux Klan, raided by state troopers, and physically beat many times. A local church had railed against it and the Klan had burnt one of the buildings to the ground. Eventually the state found cause to shut down the school with trumped up alcohol sales charges for keeping beer in the fridge and letting people chip in on it with a quarter. When the sheriff pad locked the doors Myles laughed and told him “YOU CAN PADLOCK A BUILDING BUT YOU CAN’T PADLOCK AN IDEA.”The school reformed as the Highlander Research and Education Center near Knoxville. Today it focuses on issues including democratic participation, economic justice, Latin & African American youth, immigrants, LGBT and poor Appalachian communities. The Highlander Folk School gathered in small classes of no more than 20-30 attendees. All races were treated equally from the beginning and mixed classes were common. This was illegal in public schools at the time but Highlander was privately owned. It’s musical relevance is staggering. The school gained support and was visited by many artists from the 1930’s on like Woody Guthrie & Pete Seeger. It is believed that Zilphia Morton, Myles’ wife had learned of an earlier version of “We Shall Overcome” from Tobacco union strikers and introduced it to Pete Seeger with the new lyrics who performed it often. The song had originally been a hymnal with no specific authorship. There is another famous addition to the song lyrics claimed by Myles Horton of “We Are Not Afraid” that was sung by students during a raid of vigilantes and police on the Highlander Folk School. The song was made famous by being sung in unison by protestors all over the world during multiple struggles.
In a 1981 interview with Myles it is said that although Lead Belly had not been to the Highlander he was a strong supporter and did many benefit concerts. One of which was in New York City where he debuted an unfinished version of “Bourgeois Blues” with the support of Zilphia Horton back stage.
In 2014, the Tennessee Preservation Trust placed the original Grundy County school building on it’s list of the ten most “endangered” historic sites in Tennessee.You can show your support Your text to link here… Belly NYC)!
I’ve just scratched the surface of what all went down at the Highlander Folk School and the affects on our society and social policies. In a time of darkness with state sanctioned racism a beacon of light shined from a mountain top in Tennessee. Thank God.
Watch this 2 hour interview to get the perspective from Myles himself.
By Jason Galaz 10/26/2015