In this 2006 interview with WKNO producer Pierre Kimsey (filmed in the Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook Museum located on the lower level of The Dixie) Dixie Carter talks about the special qualities of smalltown Tennessee that have kept her close to home. She was instrumental in helping the town of Huntingdon, TN, build a first-class performing arts center, which was named in her honor in 2005 and is now known simply as "The Dixie." [Taped May 25, 2006]
Huntingdon, (Carroll County) Tennessee
October 11, 2005
Early in 1999, a group of concerned business leaders, led by Mayor Dale Kelley, met together to discuss revitalization of the central business district (CBD) in Huntingdon. Several meetings to brainstorm options that would stem the decline of this area resulted in a consensus that, in addition to exterior face-lifts of the CBD businesses, a new restaurant and a new theatre were high-priority establishments that would infuse the area with new interest and activity.
During the months following that initial meeting, community awareness increased regarding the economic impact of an attractive and desirable community. Great strides have been made, as many of the businesses have completed exterior face-lift projects. A new restaurant opened in one of the vacant buildings in the CBD, bringing evening and weekend crowds to the area. New businesses have opened in other vacant buildings around the Square.
In December, 1999, Mayor Dale Kelley unveiled plans for The Dixie Carter Performing Arts and Academic Enrichment Center, to be located on the Square in Huntingdon. Original plans were to renovate four existing buildings, retaining the outer historical façade and developing a state-of-the-art center for the performing arts within. The Center would not only attract professional performances, but serve as a center for local activities and school events, as well. Bethel College, in nearby McKenzie, the Carroll Arts Council, Huntingdon Special School District, and Carroll Academy have indicated their support and interest in utilizing such a regional facility. Training seminars for area businesses, industries, and academic groups will also be appropriate uses for the center. Opportunities for learning and entertainment will be offered to all ages ranging from young children to senior adults. There is a great need for a large center specifically designed for dramatic and musical presentations. State-of-the-art acoustics, lighting, stage, and other versatile features will make this facility far more desirable than any other performance facility in the county.
As plans were unveiled, donations and pledges to fund the development began to surface. One of the subject buildings was donated for the Center. Cash donations from area banks and businesses enabled the Town of Huntingdon to purchase the remaining buildings. Dixie Carter made cash contributions to the development of the Center. She performed her popular “Cabaret” show as a fund-raising event for the Center in 2002. Hal Holbrook has been an invaluable consultant to the architect in designing the theatre at the Center.
The Center will have much to offer the citizens of Huntingdon, Carroll County, and neighboring regions. Carroll County is centrally located halfway between Memphis and Nashville in West Tennessee. The success of this project will cause a ripple effect of cultural and academic experiences reaching out to Carroll County and across all of West Tennessee.
We are confident that a Center of this caliber will attract quality performances from professional artists and draw comparable patronage from the West Tennessee region. This beauty of this state-of-the-art building will certainly enhance the appearance of the CBD. Our plans for sidewalks, landscaping, decorative lamps in the CBD will complement the overall effect. A beautiful downtown area with a major attraction such as The Dixie will naturally become a magnet for new growth, economic development, and cultural activities.
Collapse of the south wall:
On Thursday, July 8, 2004, during the early construction phase, a portion of the south wall of The Dixie collapsed. All brick and debris fell within the barricades of the construction site, so there were no injuries. It was the intent during the planning phase of the project to preserve the historical significance of the buildings that would house The Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center by doing everything structurally possible to retain the outer walls of the 125-year-old buildings. After assessment of the new set of circumstances, architects and engineers determined that complete demolition of the existing buildings would be the safest route to a structurally sound building. Following demolition, brand new construction from foundation to fly loft began.
In September, 2005, Mayor Kelley proposed to Dixie and Hal Holbrook the naming of the theatre within the performing arts center in honor of Hal Holbrook. Both Dixie and Hal were visibly moved and graciously accepted. We were delighted to include this honor for Mr. Holbrook, who has been so instrumental in the design of the theatre.
Today, we are anticipating completion of the project within the next few weeks. The dream is crystallizing into a reality of phenomenal importance to the Town of Huntingdon. As our Town slogan indicates, we are honoring our heritage and shaping our future, one project at a time.