- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

DYESS, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Heritage Sites duo of Ruth Hawkins and Paula Miles were at work recently at the Dyess Administration Building.

“The restoration of the Administration Building is nearing completion,” Hawkins, director of Arkansas Heritage Sites, which is housed on the Arkansas State University campus, told The Jonesboro Sun (http://bit.ly/1mKIqNo ).

The Dyess Colony was established in 1934 as one of the first agricultural resettlement communities in the United States under the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, according to an ASU website.

A project to restore the boyhood home of Johnny Cash and the Dyess Administration Building is underway in the tiny Mississippi County town, and the projected completion date of the first phase is the end of April.

Lately, Hawkins and Miles’ focus has been on the Administration Building and the theater facade in Dyess. Carpenters are working on last-minute details, and exhibits are being installed. Stories that will be told through the exhibits took place between 1934 and 1954, when Johnny Cash got out of the Air Force, Hawkins said.

“The exhibits will tell the history of the Dyess Colony, focus on the lifestyles of typical colonists and talk about how growing up in Dyess impacted Johnny Cash and his music.”

The Dyess City Hall will be moved into the Administration Building, and Dyess Mayor Larry Sims’ office will be across the hall. The existing city hall building is in sight from the Administration Building. So was a building adjacent to Dyess City Hall, that was in the sawmill scene in the motion picture, “I Walk the Line.” Both buildings were built in the 1940s and are not part of the project.

A number of exhibitions that relate to the happenings of Dyess‘ heyday will be on display. Hawkins said she did not want to give away what the Cash family, locals, out-of-town visitors and international tourists have to look forward to in Dyess until it opens to the public.

A room on the second floor of the Administration Building will be dedicated to the late Gene Williams, a country music personality who provided the initial funding for the acquisition of the Administration Building, Hawkins said.

The fourth annual Johnny Cash Music Festival is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center. Funds raised at the festivals support the restoration effort and a scholarship fund for A-State students.

A day later, Aug. 16, will be the grand opening of the Dyess Colony Administration Building, theater and Johnny Cash boyhood home project. However, the site will be open on a limited basis, by appointment for tour groups, beginning in May. It will be open limited hours through the week because it will initially be staffed by graduate assistants in the heritage studies program at Arkansas State.

In the beginning, visitors will purchase tickets at the Administration Building and will tour it before taking a shuttle bus to the Cash homestead a few miles away. After the theater building facade is revamped and a “pop shop” soda fountain hangout is re-created adjacent to the theater, tickets will be purchased at the theater, Hawkins explained.

The theater is significant, she said, because that’s where Johnny Cash sold popcorn and his brother, Tommy Cash, worked the movie projectors.

Long-term plans call for a walking trail from the Administration Building to the Cash home, Hawkins previously said.

“We’re telling the early story of the Cash family and how Johnny Cash became who he was,” she said.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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