Country Music Highway stop draws visitors ‘home’
Visitors paying a call at the Loretta Lynn Homeplace at Butcher Holler in Van Lear find the cabin filled with the furniture, mementos and touchstones of Loretta’s childhood—radio, ringer washing machine, photographs and more. No heat or indoor plumbing, but the butter churn in the kitchen is the very one Loretta’s mother, Clara Marie Webb, used to make butter. The hand-dug well outside is where Loretta drew water.
“The things in the house, it shows you where Loretta came from,” says Lynn’s niece, Hermalee Webb, who has been guiding tours of the Homeplace for about seven years.
“She grew up here. This house was her home, and she wouldn’t have written about it if she didn’t feel like it was her home.”
October 4, 2023, marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of Loretta Lynn, the first woman to win entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards—one among many awards she would accumulate over a lifetime.
“Loretta’s life was legendary,” says Jeremiah Parsons, executive director of Paintsville Tourism. “Her music transcends muti generations and still rings true today. The issues she sang about are real-life issues, and people relate to her and her music.
“Her deep love of home really inspires people far and wide to connect with home,” Parsons adds.
It was Hermalee’s dad (and Loretta’s brother), Herman Webb, who renovated the home Lynn sang about in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which was immortalized in the 1980 movie of the same name and earned a Best Actress Oscar for Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of the Queen of Country Music.
The Homeplace is an important stop on Kentucky’s U.S. 23 Country Music Highway. In fact, according to Parsons, it is the No. 1 most visited attraction in eastern Kentucky.
“I always say on my tour, if it weren’t for my dad, this house would not be standing here today,” says Hermalee Webb. “My dad had a lot of pride in his family and the way he grew up.”
At the time the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” movie was released, the cabin was in desperate need of repairs and renovations.
“I compare it to the lyrics in the song,” says Hermalee Webb. “‘Not much left but the floors, nothing lives here anymore.’
“It wasn’t quite that bad, but it wasn’t far from it,” she says.
Herman Webb’s original intent was to renovate the house so that the family would always have someplace to come back to, their homeplace—but the tours quickly took over.
Still, Loretta did return—and quite often. When Herman Webb first bought the former Van Lear Consolidated Company Store in 1975—the place where Loretta and her parents shopped when living at Butcher Holler—she and husband, Doolittle “Doo” Lynn, would turn up in the parking lot at the renamed Webb’s Grocery.
“It was nothing for him to look up and see Loretta and Doo sitting out there,” says Hermalee Webb. “They’d come to visit.”
After Doo Lynn passed away in 1996, Loretta’s visits home got fewer and farther between. Her last visit was 12 years ago when she returned—along with five of her siblings—for a Webb family reunion at the Homeplace. Herman Webb passed away in July 2018.
Hermalee Webb likes to incorporate a bit of movie trivia into her tours, often letting fans know about a certain movie scene that was an inaccurate depiction of Loretta and Doo’s relationship.
“When Doo forces Loretta to get up and sing for the first time—that was not true,” she says. “She’d gone out to sing with her brother, Jay Lee Webb (possibly at Bill’s Tavern in Blaine, Washington) for three weekends in a row before Doolittle ever went out there. It was Uncle Jay Lee who got her to sing.
“Dad said, ‘The minute Doo saw the response Loretta got from the audience, he knew he had to do something.’”
That “something” became a groundbreaking, award-winning country music career spanning six decades and producing multiple gold albums from a Kentucky coal miner’s daughter, whose songs—like No. 1 hits, “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”—continue to resonate.
“She sang for the women,” says Hermalee Webb. “She said things other women were afraid to say at that time.”
Guided tours of the Loretta Lynn Homeplace, located in Millers Creek Road in Van Lear, take place 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through late November and resume in late April. (Hours may change without notice due to weather.) Call Webb’s Grocery at (606) 789-3397 for information and arrangements. Tours are $5/person.
Reservations not required.
Hermalee Webb and her sister, Connie Webb, take turns guiding the tours. The best place to meet for the tour is at Webb’s Grocery for a chance to see the former company store that is part of the Webb family’s heritage. Along the two-mile drive from the store to the Homeplace is #5 Mine, where Loretta’s father, Ted Webb, worked—and a favorite photo op stop with visitors.
1917 Millers Creek Road
Van Lear, KY 41265