Historic Dyess Colony – Dyess AR


“Originally known as “Colonization Project Number 1,” Dyess Colony was first controlled by the Arkansas Rural Rehabilitation Corporation.  This corporation was set up by the Rural Rehabilitation Program of the Emergency Relief Administration in Arkansas.  In 1936 the Resettlement Administration took over management of the Arkansas Rural Rehabilitation Corporation.  The legal structure of the colony was revised, and Dyess Colony Corporation was organized.  When the Farm Security Administration was established in 1937, it became the third agency to administer Dyess.

Dyess Colony was an experiment in permanent reestablishment of the independent farmer.  Intended as a pioneer effort, the colony was, in 1934, the only purely agricultural rehabilitation colony project in the country.  The government’s attempt to resettle destitute but deserving families at Dyess Colony was a success…

The first buildings at Dyess were for the workers and consisted of barracks, a kitchen and dining hall.  By mid-June, 1934, a temporary administration building had been completed, and a month later construction began on 500 houses at the colony.  Howard Eichenbaum, a Little Rock architect, designed the three-, four-, and five-room houses constructed at Dyess.  Each house was constructed on an individual twenty- to forty-acre farm.  Though of simple design, each house met the demands of farm living.  Some twenty variations of the basic floor plans helped eliminate the monotony.  Each of the Dyess houses had a well and was wired for electricity.  In addition to other outbuildings, each farm had a barn and chicken house.  All the barns were of similar design, being about sixteen by twenty-four feet with ten foot shed on either side…

In March 1935 Johnny Cash moved into the colony with his parents and five siblings. The Historic Dyess Colony Website says that “Johnny Cash lived in Dyess until he graduated from high school in 1950. His music was greatly influenced by his experiences in Dyess, including such songs as “Pickin’ Time” and “Five Feet High and Rising.”

In May 1936 an official dedication ceremony was held in which the Colony was named in memory of William Reynolds Dyess after his death several months earlier in a plane crash. Dyess was the first Arkansas administrator of  the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). He was a farmer himself, and envisioned the colony as a community of small subsistence farms. His aim was to provide impoverished tenant farmers and sharecroppers with the opportunity to become part of a “self-supporting agricultural community” (Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture).

January, 1939, marked the completion of Dyess Colony.  After that date recruitment of new colonists to fill vacant farms stopped.  Those farms not filled were left vacant to allow for the natural expansion of the community.  As federal loans were repaid and the colonists became owners of their farms, government control of the colony dwindled.  Federal holdings were eventually liquidated, setting Dyess free of any extra control by the government.”   (https://www.arkansaspreservation.com)

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

110 Center Drive
Dyess, AR 72330

Coordinates: 35.589979, -90.214469

12 comments on “Historic Dyess Colony – Dyess AR

  1. Kay (Webb) Gilbert

    My first teaching assignment was in 1971. I was the home economics teacher at Dyess. Do you happen to have a picture of the home economics building?

    • Alex Tarr

      We don’t, but maybe another visitor to the site will. If you find one, we’d love to include it here.

  2. Henrietta Chipman

    My mother and father live in one of the remaining houses that were constructed as part of the New Deal. They didn’t move in until around 1966. I am researching to find out who the original occupants of their house were. They lived on Road 13 in a house that they purchased from Charles Sornson. Can you help me with who the original owners were?

    • Gabriel Milner

      If anyone out there can help Henrietta, please let us know.

  3. Sue DeMasi

    Maybe someone at the Dyess Colony (restored town) could help: https://dyesscash.astate.edu.

  4. Debbie Vest

    would like to know if anyone knew the Nichols family that had a grant for land there at Dyess Colny, I know that it was just called roads then at that time, can anyone help please

  5. David Gray Jackson, Sr.

    My mother-in-law lived there a few houses down from the Cash family. Her cousin used to play music in the evening with J.R.(Johnny). She was a Cypret I have started a Facebook group, Decentants of Dyess. Anyone that has a connection to This unique time and place is invited to join.


    My mom and dad knew the Sornson family they grew up there in Dyess,Ar knew Cash family, Ward family. Would love to know if there is a record of the family’s there. My Dads last name was Tippy my mom’s was Nichols,also have Nichols Cemetary in Lepanto,Ar

  7. Dodie Hunter Boyett

    My mom’s family lived at Dyess. They were one of the original families. Allie Garey was my grandfather who lived just across a field from the Cash family. My mom was best friends with one of the Cash girls. Mom’s name was Mildred Garey. We lived in the Cash house when I was a child. We had a panther that kept getting in the attic. My dad nailed up the entrance from the house so the panther couldn’t come down in the house. Not long after we moved they found and killed the animal.

  8. Sarah Husson

    @Henrietta Chipman and @Gabriel Milner my grandfather is Charles Sornson. My uncle just shared a photo of a circular metal key ring that reads “DYESS 501 COLONY”, which led me to research and find this page.

  9. Please post your pictures, historical information, and memories on Descendents of Dyess on Facebook.

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