A few green signs are the only thing to guide the way when the queen of country music’s fans make their pilgrimage to the cabin on the hill in Butcher Holler.
The cabin, made famous in the song and movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” is not a designated tourist attraction in Johnson County, although it is often the only thing many people from far and wide have an interest in visiting there. When television celebrity Turtleman recently visited Johnson County, Butcher Holler was the only place he wanted to go.
Nearly every day, country music fans wind their way through the Van Lear community to find Webb’s Grocery and Lynn’s brother, Herman Webb, for a $5 tour of the old family homeplace.
“I was expecting like a big billboard flashing, but it is very quiet. It was really easy to find, but now I wonder if I can find my way back out,” said Jeannie Christy, who toured the cabin with her mother, Neva Neer, after five years of planning for the trip. The mother and daughter team traveled from Strasburg, Ohio, as part of a vacation exploring Neer’s Kentucky roots.
Compared to the fast pace of her life, Christy said Loretta Lynn’s story is an inspiration.
“Even in their poverty I think they were rich,” she said. Neer, herself the daughter of a coal miner from Kentucky, said Lynn was “a special star,” whose music resonated with everyone in her family.
At Webb’s Grocery, they were greeted by Mack Lowe, a musician whose mother wanted to move to Van Lear because of her love for Loretta Lynn. While pointing out the blue dress that Lynn stitched herself for performances during the 1960s, various autographed records and photos as well as souvenirs, Lowe made a point of helping the newcomers feel welcome.
“We try to make everybody feel at home when they come to Van Lear,” Lowe said.
The store, which remains the nearest place for Van Lear residents to buy basic groceries, snacks and soft drinks, doubles as a museum and gift shop for Loretta Lynn lovers. A row of license plates along the top shelf reflects the range of Lynn’s appeal, with retired plates from Washington and Arizona spelling out “BORN,” and “COAL,” and “MINERS” and “DAUGHTR.”
Photos and records by Lynn, as well as her sister Crystal Gayle, and other family members who were also musicians are displayed along with other images of musicians including Ernest Tubb and George Jones, whose careers were intertwined with that of the homegrown music star.
Lynn herself sent the shiny, sequined dress in a glass case on display near the center of one wall. Lowe said he was told she was in the store a few years ago and noticed the discoloration of her old blue dress before assuring her brother a new gown would be on the way as soon as possible.
The store offers plenty for fans to appreciate, but the old cabin will always be the star of the show.
“We get 40 to 50 calls a day. Of course, some days there’s not anything,” Lowe said, adding most who want to see the cabin simply show up at the country store. Family groups may be the most common form of tourists, he said, although the cabin also brings them in by the bus load.
“I’m getting 500 people in two days, but that’s just a one-time thing,” said Webb, 77, later noting he does not give cabin tours during bad weather or if there is snow on the ground.
“Some of them want to see it and others just want a picture,” said Webb, adding musicians often arrive with a guitar at the ready. “I’ve had bus loads of people. They don’t just make one trip. They come back the next year to see me, you know what I mean? The second trip is not to see the house, it is to talk to me.
“I get them all. I’ve had people from every state I guess,” Webb said of his guests at the cabin. “I’ve had people from Russia, Japan, Germany. I’ve had some that had to have an interpreter because they couldn’t understand me. We’ve had people from Scotland — you can get some nice folks from Scotland.”
Celebrity visitors to the cabin have included four-star General John G. Coburn, George Hamilton IV, Stella Parton, Ronnie McDowell, Bob Evans, Tammy Wynette and most recently Georgette Jones.
“I really couldn’t tell you who all has been up there that’s famous. Somebody once pointed out Charlie Rich taking pictures from inside a big Lincoln. I didn’t meet him, but I believe it was him,” Webb said.
Webb, who lived the same coal camp life his sister sang about, has proven himself to be the top tour guide in Butcher Holler, with many groups refusing to visit unless they know he will be able to lead them around and share his stories. Webb makes no secret of his love of the job, although he seems happy to share the tour guide duties with his grandson, Ted McCoart.
At 18, McCoart wasn’t around for most of Loretta Lynn’s days as a music superstar, although he says it makes him proud to have so many people interested in his family’s history. He hears his great aunt’s music constantly while giving tours and admits he has gotten pretty good at answering visitors’ questions.
“I’ve been around this forever and I’ve heard every story grand dad’s got ... twice,” he said with a chuckle.
At the end of a Wednesday afternoon tour, Webb concluded “This is just the way we lived. Some people expect something fancy but this is it. I have had people who toured Elvis Presley’s home before they came her and they said they like this better.”
Webb asks anyone who wants to visit the cabin to call ahead at (606) 789-3397, or stop by the family store for assistance.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at