Opryland USA theme park closed more than 20 years ago, and it is still dearly missed by the Donelson, Tennessee, community.
1. 120-acre babysitter
Opryland opened in 1972. It was operated seasonally when school was out. It was during an era when parents were comfortable leaving their kids unattended. Opryland season passes were available, so parents would often drop their kids off at the park and leave them for the day.
2. New attractions
Each year new musical shows, restaurants and — most importantly — rides were added to the park. The new attractions were promoted during the winter months, which elevated the anticipation level. It meant long lines for the new features at the start of each summer, but attendees didn't seem to mind.
3. Summer jobs
Teenagers looking for part-time work in Donelson were usually limited to finding employment cutting grass, babysitting or working at fast food chains in the 1960s and early '70s. That all changed when Opryland opened, with hundreds of seasonal positions. Many of the gigs were filled by high school students, who not only earned extra money, but also developed new friendships with their co-workers.
4. Grooming ground
Aspiring musicians jumped at the opportunity to work in the shows at the park. They knew talent scouts would routinely check out the performances. The stages helped launch the careers for many local singers, artists and actors.
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5. Another mall, seriously?
After Opryland closed in 1997, the announcement came that the park would be converted into a retail shopping mall. Opry Mills would replace it. This was not welcomed news for most Donelson residents. They already had 100 Oaks, Rivergate and Hickory Hollow malls nearby and CoolSprings was not too far away. Add to that, mall shopping had become increasingly less popular.
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Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.