The late, great Loretta Lynn is one of the country music scene’s most enduring figures. But her path to fame and fortune wasn’t always the easiest. The coal-miner’s daughter grew up in a humble house in a small Kentucky town. And taking a tour inside this home, a million miles away from her later days of fame and success, you can see for yourself just how much the odds were stacked against her.
The country star was born Loretta Webb in Butcher Holler to mother Clara and father Melvin, the latter a subsistence farmer and coal-miner. And it’s fair to say that the latter job in particular wasn’t well-paid.
For every ton of coal that Melvin mined with nothing but his hands and a shovel he was rewarded with just 25 cents. And this wasn’t in pure money terms, either.
Love, not money
Yes, back in the 1930s most miners took home scrip and not cash, meaning they could only spend their hard-earned wages in shops owned by their bosses. Luckily, Loretta and her family seemed to make the most of this poverty-stricken situation.
The country singer often spoke about the fact that while her parents had struggled to make ends meet, they always made sure their eight kids felt loved. What's more, they never complained about their predicament.
In one of several memoirs Loretta revealed how she saw her father as a hero for his physically arduous job. The singer wrote, “He kept his family alive by breaking his own body down.”
While Melvin was out mining coal at the Consolidated Number Five Mine, her mother Clara took care of her eight children. She’d often read to them until he returned home.
Loretta’s childhood was no doubt a slightly insular one. You had to walk 3 miles to Van Lear, the nearest town to Butcher Holler, and a further 7 for the next one, Paintsville.
She was also one of just 4,000 people living in the area at the time. And Loretta had to wait until her adolescent years to experience many of the things that most kids take for granted from a young age.
Yes, Loretta was in her early teens when she got the chance to use a toilet with running water, an experience she later admitted gave her quite the scare. And it was a similar story with ice cream.
In fact, the closest that she and the rest of her siblings got to eating the foodstuff as children was by scooping up snowflakes and topping them with sugar and milk.
Another particular example of how strapped for cash the Webbs were relates to their house décor. Without the funds to buy any wallpaper, mom Clara had to get creative, using ripped out pages from Sears Roebuck catalogs.
She would also rely on newspapers to make their home look more presentable and keep the heat in. Loretta once said, “The winters were cold... but my mommy made that old house stay warm and beautiful.”
Clara and Melvin also made the best of what they had when it came to the holiday season. They would always have a Christmas tree, which they adorned with tinsel made from tobacco tin wrappers saved from the previous 11 months.
And Loretta would regularly receive a rag doll from Santa Claus that had been lovingly stitched together by her mom. The future star would then make her own clothes for the toy from nearby oak leaves.
Despite the lack of expensive gifts Loretta has nothing but fond memories of Christmases at her Butcher Holler childhood home. In a 2016 interview with magazine Southern Living she recalled how the simple acts of singing carols and making festive snacks had been more than enough.
The “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” said, "We’d eat our popcorn and look at our tree. We waited all year for it. That was our Christmas. We loved it.”
The family home was situated in an Appalachian community on a secluded and hilly land plot. And it was difficult to get to, too. Yes, without access to any form of transport the Webbs had to make their way up to their house each time by foot.
But Loretta didn’t have to live there for too long. At the age of just 15 she married soldier Doolittle ‘Mooney’ Lynn and within a year they’d relocated to Washington.
Loretta first attracted the attention of her future husband with an unusual pie she made in the family’s humble cabin. The singer had made the baked treat not with sugar but salt for a pie social.
Doolittle ended up bidding more than anyone else at the event for Loretta’s handiwork. But he was no doubt more interested in what else was served with it: a date with its baker.
It was Doolittle who’d given Loretta her very first guitar. The soldier paid $17 for the instrument from the same kind of catalog that his mother-in-law had used to decorate the family house walls.
He also encouraged Loretta to showcase her singing in public, organizing a show at a local hall while telling anyone who’d listen that only Kitty Wells had a better voice.
Of course, Loretta already had music in her blood. She’d spent much of her childhood listening to the sounds of Nashville on the family’s large radio. But the fact that it was powered by battery and not electricity meant that she and her seven siblings had to choose carefully when they turned it on.
The radio shows they did decide on also had a profound effect on two of Loretta’s siblings. Both Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue would go on to forge professional singing careers, too.
In a 2016 interview referenced by website Gazette Net, Loretta revealed that her vocal talents hadn’t always been appreciated in the family home. She said, “Daddy used to come out on the porch where I would be singing and rocking the babies to sleep.”
The star continued, “He’d say, ‘Loretta, shut that big mouth. People all over this holler can hear you.’ And I said, ‘Daddy, what difference does it make? They are all my cousins.’”
The Carter Family
So what kind of music did the Webb family listen to on their giant radio? Well, in the same interview, Loretta revealed that the family of her recent producer John Carter Cash were particular favorites.
She said, “The Carter Family was the first songs I ever heard. I was just two or three years old, maybe a little older. But I remember climbing up on Daddy’s leg and Daddy was playing the old Victrola and playing Carter Family records.”
You can still see the exact radio that the Webb family used to gather around in the tour of their home. And that’s not the only sign that music played a big part in Loretta’s childhood that’s still visible today.
One of its beds has been adorned with all kinds of artifacts from days gone by, including the guitar that she and many of her seven siblings used to play.
Nifty on the banjo
That guitar was also played by Loretta’s mother. Yes, in between looking after eight kids and the family home, Clara somehow found the time and energy to play the old six-string.
And she wasn’t the only musical talent in her marriage, either. Melvin was also pretty nifty on the banjo, part of which is also now placed alongside the guitar on the bed for the childhood home tour.
If you head into the kitchen then you’ll spot several items that were used to make moonshine. You can also see the type of miner’s hat that dad Melvin would have taken with him to his coal-mining job each and every single day.
But to see the real thing, as well as his original lunch bucket, you’ll have to pay a visit to Hurricane Mills’ Loretta Lynn Ranch Museum where it’s lovingly displayed.
The kitchen is also where you will find the Hoosier cabinet and pie safe that the Webb family used many decades ago. Of course, you may be wondering exactly what these appliances are.
Well, the former is a free-standing unit which serves as both storage and a place on which to prepare food. The latter is, as its name suggests, a place where pies, including the salt one with which Loretta attracted her husband, are stored.
Front porch swing
Loretta didn’t forget her roots, though, when she left to make a new life for herself, firstly as a wife and mother and as then a singer. The star would often return to her humble childhood home from Washington to pay her parents and siblings a visit.
And the “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” singer would usually remind herself of the glorious countryside views by sitting outside on the swing placed on the front porch.
While Loretta was busy making her fame and fortune, her younger sibling Herman was making a living running one of Butcher Holler’s local stores. And if you had a spare $5 you could ask him to take you on a trip to his old family home.
Herman, who sadly passed away in the 2010s at the age of 83, would also serve as a tour guide of the place in which he, Loretta, and his six other siblings were raised.
April to November
Although Herman is no longer with us you can still pay a visit to the store he ran and treat yourself to a moon pie or a sandwich. And there are now more official organized tours to his and Loretta’s childhood home.
You will be pleased to know that the price is still the same although you can only visit from April to late November between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Coal Miner’s Daughter
You might think that you had already spotted Loretta’s family home in her 1980 screen biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. But the scenes depicting her childhood surroundings weren’t actually shot in the real thing.
As previously mentioned, the Webbs’ residence wasn’t the easiest place to access. And so producers suggested creating a new road up its hill, so then vehicles carrying film equipment could get to the place.
But unwilling to disturb the natural landscape, the surviving Webb family members decided against this idea. As a result the team behind the Emmy-winning film were forced to create a replica of the property at Bottom Fork in Whitesburg.
Sadly, fans of the country music legend can’t pay a visit to this piece of movie history. The carbon copy of Loretta's childhood home has since been destroyed in an arson attack.
Coal Miner’s Daughter wasn’t the only time that Loretta addressed her rags-to-riches childhood in her work. A full decade previously she’d scored a U.S. country number-one hit with a same-named song about life “in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler.”
It also became Loretta’s first entry on the Hot 100, peaking at No.83. She later said, “It told everybody that I could write about something else besides marriage problems.”
You might be surprised to learn, though, that the same song is responsible for coining the name Butcher Holler. Loretta explained in 2003, “The whole thing is really Webb Holler.”
She added, “The Webbs owned the holler, and the Webbs started marrying into the Butchers. I thought the syllable come out better saying ‘Butcher’ than saying ‘Webb,’ so I made it Butcher Holler. They say ‘Butcher’ since that song.”
But Loretta’s decision to make a name-change wasn’t appreciated by everyone back in her hometown. She later wrote in her memoir that a nearby family named the Butchers were particularly aggrieved.
The star said, “[They] got mad because I used their name and they wanted me to put a concrete highway up through there. I sent ’em a letter and said, ‘I waded up to my knees when I left there, and so can you.’”
Then in 1976 Loretta discussed her childhood further in a memoir named, you guessed it, Coal Miner’s Daughter. Of course, for many people it was the film adaptation four years later that brought the country singer’s early upbringing to light for the first time.
Hollywood icon Sissy Spacek, who also performed the vocals for the soundtrack, even won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Loretta in the picture helmed by director Michael Apted.
Still Woman Enough
In her second autobiography, Still Woman Enough, Loretta proved that you can take the girl out of Butcher Holler,but you can’t take the Butcher Holler out of the girl. Referring to her hometown she wrote, “I feel it, smell it, and taste it.”
“Sometimes, when I’m on a giant stage in front of thousands of people, I close my eyes and drift back to the swaying trees and bubbling streams of the only home I knew until I was 14.”
The Story of My Life
And Loretta has continued to write about her hometown spirit in many of her songs, too. On “The Story of My Life,” for example, from 2004 studio effort Circle, the country legend references her small-town beginnings in a highly autobiographical tale.
She concludes the track,
“Now me and Doo married 48 years,
Six kids later, a lot of laughter and tears,
I have to say that I’ve been blessed,
Not bad for this old Kentucky girl, I guess.”