Help sought refurnishing Johnny Cash home

Country music legend Johnny Cash. Image courtesy of Archive and Written Word Autographs.

Country music legend Johnny Cash. Image courtesy of Archive and Written Word Autographs.

DYESS, Ark. (AP) – Through his music, Arkansas native and country legend Johnny Cash, who died in 2003, made his mark in the world.

Now his fans, fellow Arkansans, and others can make their mark on his childhood home in Dyess—by donating period household items to restore it to the way it looked when Cash, then known as J.R., lived there as a boy with his family from the late 1930s through the late 1940s.

People who contribute will, in effect, have a hand in once again setting up house for the Cash family, more than 70 years after they first moved in. Those interested in donating or simply curious about what filled Johnny Cash’s home can browse the list at

“I came up with the idea for a registry because we started asking people to help us find things for the house, but we realized we needed a way to keep them up to date on what we had and what we still needed,” explains Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro.

There are 94 items on the Johnny Cash Household Registry, with more than one of some of the items needed. To date, nearly 100 items have been donated. Hawkins created the list by consulting with Cash’s brother, Tommy, and sister, Joanne Cash Yates.

“People who know about it find it a fun way to keep up with the kinds of things that we are receiving,” adds Hawkins, who turns to Yates for confirmation of whether an item she finds is like the one the Cash family owned.

Opening emails with photographs of items so similar to what surrounded her in her youth has been a nostalgic experience for Yates, who gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the items Hawkins finds. “I lived in that home for the first 17 years of my life. I knew where every table and every lamp was. This has been a very emotional experience for me.

“I miss my family so much—every day—and when I see these items and see them beginning to fill up the house, I am very proud of what’s been done.” Yates told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The home, a project of the Arkansas Heritage Sites, is being restored as a museum and is expected to open April 26, with a grand opening to be held later in 2014. Restoration costs are being covered by donations and proceeds from the Johnny Cash Music Festival. The nearby Dyess Administration Building also is being restored to serve as a visitors center. That project is being funded through grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council and a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Later phases of the overall project will include reconstruction of the outbuildings that were part of the Cash homestead, from the barn and smokehouse to the outhouse and chicken coop.

The Cash family, who lived in the home from the late 1930s through the early 1950s, consisted of Johnny Cash’s parents and their seven children.

The restoration of the exterior and interior of the home is mostly complete except for planting flowers in the flower boxes and finding old fixtures for the kitchen sink and cleaning the original linoleum.

Now, it’s time to fill the home with furnishings and the miscellaneous stuff of life, everything from matches (large box of wooden matches from 1940s era) to a milk pitcher (ca. 1910-1912).

So Hawkins and her staff put out a call for help.

The place needed everything from a pincushion (early 1900s) to a pocket knife (1930s or 1940s era), including the kitchen sink (original Dyess colony-style sink). Actually, if you have one of those, you’re too late. The owner of another Dyess colony home that was vacant has ponied up one, as well as a bathtub. The house still needs a bathroom sink (wall-mount, pipes exposed, no cabinet underneath).

Have a quilt frame to hang from the ceiling with hooks and rope? Now a rarity, it was once a common sight in homes of the period. A 1940s edition of the Memphis Press Scimitar newspaper would also be nice.

Reading the list serves as a reminder of just how difficult homemakers in the early 20th century had it (brooms and mops, 1930s-1940s era; butter churn, crock style; cans of Bon Ami, circa 1940; seed packets, vegetable packets for garden; Singer sewing machine, treadle style with two drawers in cabinet; wash board, primitive; wooden dough bowl for making biscuits).

“Monday was Momma’s wash day,” Yates explains. “She washed all day long, rubbing the clothes on a wash board until she got a machine and that was a wringer washer.”

And then there are all those bygone everyday items which contrast with the comforts we enjoy today, thanks to modern conveniences (pump, long-handled; six coal oil lamps about 18 inches tall, small rounded bowl at base for kerosene; black old-fashioned oscillating fan, small, sat on table and rotated so that both beds could feel the breeze; fan, palm leaf hand fan, early 1900s; living room stove, black wood stove, rounded pot belly, about 36 inches tall; icebox, apple green, left side was vertical door with three shelves inside, right was 2 doors for ice and drip pan; white porcelain doors).

“Just the other day, Ruth sent me photographs of a couple of wood stoves for the kitchen and I chose the one that looked the most like the one Momma used to have,” Yates says.

Hawkins says, “We had to conduct a major search for the icebox,” adding that one was finally found on an online auction but it had already been sold.

“As it turned out, the buyer later backed out after realizing that he had to arrange for his own pickup. The icebox was in Ohio, about an hour away from where the father of one of our ASU administrators lives, so he made the trip to pick it up, and his daughter then hauled it back to Jonesboro on her next visit to Ohio.”

The mahogany buffet for the dining room also was a real find.

“One evening I was in my hotel room during a conference and started looking at online auctions and came across a buffet that looked a little bit like what Joanne had described and, even though the auction was ending within the hour, I sent a picture of it to Joanne anyway and asked her to describe how theirs differed from the photo,” Hawkins says. “She emailed back and said, ‘That is amazing. It is exactly like ours! Where did you find it?’ I hated to have to tell her that I thought it had just been sold, but when I tracked down the owner, I learned that no one had met the minimum bid.

“When I told him what I wanted it for, he agreed to sell it for about half of what he had set as his minimum.”

Two of the university’s graduate assistants picked up the buffet in Kentucky on their way to a conference in Virginia.

Some things filling the Cash home, like a vintage blue Mason jar, baby shoes from the 1940s, McGuffey Readers and crocheted doilies placed on tables throughout the home will tug at the heartstrings of those who lived during that era, stirring their memories.

Other items, like the Bibles found placed on nightstands and the 1930s Broadman hymnal (which includes The Unclouded Day) give a glimpse into the souls and spirits of those who resided there.

Why must the hymnal include The Unclouded Day?

“Momma was the pianist for the Dyess Central Baptist Church and we were in church Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights,” Yates says. “That’s just what you did. And she also played the piano at home a lot and whenever she did, she always ended up playing that one; it was her favorite hymn.”

Through the years, the Cash’s upright piano found its way to the Dyess community center. The mayor donated it back to the Cash home, where it will return after it has been restored.

And a Silvertone tabletop radio like the one the family bought from the Sears catalog has also been acquired for the home.

The home still needs three more full-size beds (iron, painted black with high curved headboards and footboards; wrought iron bars across) and handmade quilts for all four of them.

It also needs a living room chair (old lounger, nonreclining, dark blue like couch) and a sofa (dark navy blue, like futon – folded out for sleeping, three cushions).

“The thing we are having the most trouble finding is the sofa-bed that was in the living room,” Hawkins says. “It was one of those where the back lowered to form a bed,” adding that they are rare because when upholstered sofas from that era became worn out, they were often taken to the dump instead of finding their way to antique shops or flea markets. But we are hoping that maybe someone, somewhere, at least has the frame from one of these old-style sofa beds that we can reupholster.”

Those who can help find any of the above needed items should contact Ruth Hawkins at Donors will be recognized on a permanent plaque at the home.

“They say you can’t go home again,” Yates says, “But for me and my brother Tommy, we will be able to.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Country music legend Johnny Cash. Image courtesy of Archive and Written Word Autographs.

Country music legend Johnny Cash. Image courtesy of Archive and Written Word Autographs.