Branson Missouri dates back to the early 1800’s. Starting back in 1837 when Taney County was established with Forsyth, a popular and important river town, named as county seat. In 1882, Rueben Branson opened his general store which also became the post office. The post office recognized the area as Branson, Missouri – named after Rueben Branson. Shortly thereafter, starting in 1884, Settlers began moving to the Ozarks after the promise of free land. The area was homesteaded on 160 acre lots. 10 years later, in 1894, William Henry Lynch bought the Marvel Cave located 6 miles outside of Branson. That same cave would become the heart of the Silver Dollar City theme park. As 1903 arrived, the founding men of Branson began building an industrial center that would generate continuous trainloads of lumber, logs, and a variety of manufactured products for communities outside of the Ozarks. A year later, in 1904, a new bank, livery stable and lodging accommodations started up to service area travelers and fisherman.
In 1907, Harold Bell Wright published the novel Shepherd of the Hills which brought inspiration to the Ozark area and its’ settlers such as the Ross family. Mr. Wright was afflicted with tuberculosis (consumption) and stayed with the Ross’ while he waited for the White River to recede enough to be crossed. Mr. Wright was a young man seeking his health. He stopped among the hill folks and found peace. He explored Marvel Cave and was amazed with its beauty. He visited each summer for seven years collecting notes about real life events of the people of the area. He stayed in a tent near the Shepherd of The Hills homestead. The experience moved him to set a story-part fact, part legend, part dream. The novel gained popularity quickly and attracted many tourists to see the area he wrote about. Thus tourism was officially born in Branson, Missouri. The Shepherd of The Hills novel has become a widely read book and had over a dozen television productions and eight movies created.
Branson, MO was incorporated on April 1, 1912. The town originated with 1,200 residents. It wasn’t long before the notion of Branson as a resort town began to make way. The right kind of industry and infrastructure emerged for a resort community to evolve; a commercial ice plant, a soft drink bottling plant, a candy factory, an ice cream factory next to the waterfront. The Winch Spoke Company built spokes and wagon parts, while the American Pencil Company of New York established a logging factory in Branson. Amazingly, the entire business section of Branson Burned down in August of 1912, but was rebuilt. In 1912 and 1913 the Powersite Dam was built across the White River at Ozark Beach. This created Lake Taneycomo, which the women of Branson would create a well-equipped municipal bathing beach and picnic grounds. Women of Branson were also instrumental in a decade long effort to pleasantly create the streets, established parks, and make life better in their community. Lake Taneycomo became a tourist destination for those who loved to fish and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the new found lake. The dam and lake also created a new resort town with national status called Rockaway Beach. Enthusiasts, adventurist, fisherman, and explorers flocked to this new area. By the 1930’s, Lake Taneycomo had become an inexpensive vacation get away. The area grew with increasing tourism due to its easy accessibility by car and train. Families from both nearby and distant cities traveled area. The Shepherd of the Hills novel was a large source of publicity for the area and brought in bunches of travelers. The tourism assisted the town’s businesses to survive through the Depression and banking industry failures.
After World War II, many artists, craftsmen, servicemen, war industry workers, and retirees began moving into the Branson area. Branson, Missouri proved to be a growing area of hand-crafted products and services. In the late 1940’s, Hugo and Mary Herschend visited the area from Chicago. They were amazed at the potential of the area. They were especially interested in the Marvel Cave, which was bringing in a few thousand visitors per year. In 1949 Hugo and Mary Herschend bought the Marvel Cave from Mr. Lynch’s daughters. They moved their family to the area following the purchase. Hugo, Mary and their sons, Jack and Peter, worked to establish cave tours of the Marvel Cave. Hugo’s death was hard on the family, Mary and her 2 sons continued to improve the cave and explored new areas for development. They continued Hugo’s dream for their newly purchased cave. As families traveled to visit the cave, many could not, or would not make the difficult journey into the depths of the cave. A lot of folks would wait above ground. Mary quickly realized that these visitors needed to be entertained while they waited. She made arrangements for several women to make crafts and show folks their trades. Keeping in tradition with the area, she expanded the outside of the cave to consist of a single street of shops, crafts, and a stagecoach ride. They also performed square dances in the cave. Thus Silver Dollar City was born in 1960! The name came from the change given to customers at that time.
If we journey back to 1949, not only did the Herschends buy Marvel Cave and begin Silver Dollar City, but something else important happened that year. An artist, Steve Miller, and businessman Joe Todd, with the help of local carpenters, began creating and constructing gigantic lighted Adoration Scenes on the bluff of Mount Branson. Mount Branson overlooks the downtown area and Lake Taneycomo. The immaculate figures, which were up to 28 feet tall, were lit up for all to see on the first day of December. Thousands of amazed visitors witnessed the first, of what has now become a Branson tradition. By the mid 1950’s, vast amounts of visitors were returning each year to see the lighting of the Adoration Scenes. The Chamber of Commerce soon created the Adoration Parade to accompany the lights. The parade was the beginning of what would be numerous parades held in Branson, Missouri. Today, the parade and Adoration Scene draws over 30,000 visitors. This also fueled what would become numerous displays of Christmas lights, trails of drive-through lights and holiday decorations now found in Branson every year.
The late 1950’s were very busy for Branson Missouri’s history. The construction of the Table Rock Dam began around 1954 and was completed 5 years later in 1959. The new dam served to prevent flooding in Branson’s waterfront areas. Residents were excited to have the new dam. The Table Rock Dam created Table Rock Lake. Table Rock Lake was and is the areas largest man made lake. The lake brought more visitors from near and far to enjoy all the activities. The land was never cleared when the dam was created. Therefore the undergrowth provides some of the countries best fishing. 1959 also saw the arrival of the Mabes family from Springfield, Missouri. The Mabes family started the Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree Show. The show opened in its new theatre; the basement of City Hall. The irony of this is that the basement was also the police station. The Baldknobbers name came from a vigilante group during the Civil War Era called – The Baldknobbers. The Baldknobbers where originally assembled to uphold the law of the land. They soon began to use their powers to make their own justice and own law. They soon after became the vigilantes of the Ozarks. Thus the irony; the Baldknobbers show was performed in the police Station. They had approximately 50 chairs that they would set up and put away each night. The show consisted of brothers Bob, Jim, Bill, and Lyle Mabe, and friend Chick-Allen. They played on home made instruments, all except Allen. We called him Chick-a-boo. "Bill says, "He played the jawbone of a mule, literally."
The Presley family was performing in Kimberling City during the late 1950’s. The family came from Springfield, Missouri to entertain the new found tourist of Table Rock Lake. They played at the Underground Theatre of Lakeview, inside of a cave. This cave is now known as Talking Rocks Cavern. This made for difficult times with damp conditions and instruments sometimes getting wet. They eventually moved their show from Kimberling City to a metal building they build just west of Branson, Missouri. "Some nights we would all stand out in front and watch for car lights coming down the road, hoping the would turn in here," says Gary Presley. Everyone in the family helped out with the show. They all performed a wide range of duties outside of the show. After performing, they would clean the building. Even during intermission, 10 year old Steve dropped his drumsticks and ran to the parking lot to tape bumper stickers on cars.
In 1960 the "Shepherd of the Hills" opened its Old Mill Theater at its farmstead. They performed an open air production of Wright’s novel. Also remember Silver Dollar City was opening its doors as a Theme Park. Tourism was rapidly growing in Branson. Just as Branson was setting record tourist numbers, the Missouri Pacific cancelled its service on the White River Line. Automobile became the only way to get to Branson. The drastic increase in cars, traffic slowed down to a crawl on the 75 mile winding route between Springfield and Branson. An immediate cure was called for; thus dynamite crews and massive earth moving equipment blasted through the limestone hills between Branson and Springfield. In the end they made the route shorter by 35 miles and much straighter. The finished product, a two-lane highway with alternating third passing lane was completed in the mid 1970’s. The bypass rerouted U.S. 65 away from Branson’s congested downtown business district and with interchanges at Highway 76 and at Highway 248, and a new bridge across Lake Taneycomo.
In 1964 Branson was coming alive. The Baldknobbers moved into a downtown Branson Theater. The Presley’s were performing in their metal building west of Branson. Shepherd of the Hills was a big hit and Silver Dollar City was attracting new record numbers of visitors. The new Table Rock Lake had attracted families from all distances due to its open 800 miles of shoreline. The lake had met an overwhelming need for lake activities, fishing, boating, snorkeling, camping, and much more. Lake Taneycomo was now a very frigid temperature year round due to its contents of cold, deep Table Rock Lake waters. There are also a few fresh water streams that consistently feed Lake Taneycomo. So Taneycomo was now ideal for Trout. Sportsmen flocked to Branson and Rockaway Beach. In 1967 the Presley’s made a big move and opened a theater, the first theater, on "the strip," Hwy 76. The Baldknobbers were quick to move to a theater on Hwy 76 too. The movement to Hwy 76 had begun. The Plummer Family Music Show followed to "the strip." Hwy 76 led folks directly to Shepherd of the Hills and Silver Dollar City, so it was an ideal path to be on for entertainers. Soon shops, dining and lodging were soon to sprout on hwy 76. As the new Hwy 65 was completed; it led visitors directly to Hwy 76. This diverted traffic from the busy downtown district. The Foggy River Boys, who had been performing since 1971 in Kimberling City, moved to Hwy 76 in Branson. The Mutton Hollow Entertainment Park opened up in Branson at this time. Hwy 248 was a newfound road brought by the construction on 65 Hwy. Now visitors could exit onto Hwy 76, or Hwy 248. A new bridge was built across Lake Taneycomo. This allowed access from the South along Hwy 65 to 76 Hwy and 248 Hwy.
In the 1980’s Branson was still maintaining a steady amount of tourism. In 1981 The Wilkerson Brothers Theater, The Hee Haw Theater, and the Starlite Theater were all completed. This added more entertainment to Branson and promoted more growth. 1983 then marked the start of a tremendous boom to Branson visitors. The Swiss Villa with 7500 seats opened its doors. The Lowe Family moved to "The Strip." The Thunderbird Theater and Echo Hollow Amphitheater at Silver Dollar City also opened. The legendary Roy Clark was the first nationally acclaimed performer to see the potential of Branson, Missouri. He also opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater in 1983. 1984 brought the Braschlers Music Show in the old Lowe’s Theater. Musicland USA opened with the Lester Family performing. The Sons of the Pioneers began performing at the Lowe’s theater in 1984. 1985 brought a few more changes as Branson started a tradition that is regularly practiced in current day- Theater hopping. The Braschlers Music Show moved to the Musicland USA. The Hee Haw Theater became the Country Music World, while the Sons of Pioneers joined up with the Foggy River Boys. 1986 brought the new Ozark Mountain Amphitheater with an amazing 8500 seats. The Texans also came to Branson and joined Bob Mabe in opening the Texans/Bob-O-Links Music Show. 1987 brought with it a real treat for Branson, Missouri. Celebrity entertainer Box Car Willie became the first famous performer to perform on a permanent schedule in his own theater in Branson. The Campbell’s Ozark Country Jubilee and the 76 Music Hall both opened their doors, as well. Branson just continued to grow and people continued to travel. In 1988, the first Ozark Mountain Christmas was held and The Factory Merchants Mall opened its doors. Shortly after in 1989, the Inspiration Tower finished building and opened for tourists. It was 230 ft in the air and catered to anybody wanting a view to take their breath away. Shoji Tabuchi, a current day popular performer, opened his own show. Before the 80’s were through, Christy Lane bought the Starlite Theater and Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass began performing at Country Music World.
The 1990’s were very good to Branson, Missouri. Shoji Tabuchi moved to his own theater on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. Mel Tillis moved to Branson and started a music show. Mickey Gilley also made his way to Branson and started a new theater. In 1991, national news organizations discovered Branson, Missouri. In August of 1991, Time Magazine published a story about the discovery of Branson, Missouri. Other major media sources were soon to follow with stories of their own. The Los Angeles Times did a story, the Wall Street Journal, as well. People magazine did a story too. This was all big coverage for this small Ozarks town. Things really heated up when 60 Minutes put Branson on television and unveiled to the American public that our little Ozark town had "more theater seats than New York’s Broadway." They also ran through the impressive and popular names on the 22 established theaters. The headlining names were popular in most American homes. To add to the 1991 hysteria, Shepherd of the Hills and Ray Stevens started the Ray Stevens Theater. Moe Bandy opened the American Theater and Buck Trent opened a dinner theater. In 1992, Mel Tillis and Andy Williams each opened their own theaters. Willie Nelson played at the Ozark Theater in front of a large crowd. Jim Stafford began performing at the Stars of the Ozark Theater. Kenny Rogers and Silver Dollar City began the Grand Palace on the Strip. 1992 also brought to Branson the Osmonds and Jennifer Wilson. The big name performers just started flocking to Branson around the early to mid 90’s. Literally, taking place after the huge media exposure received in 1991. In 1993, the Pump boys and Dinettes arrived. Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton arrived in Branson! Bobby Vinton, Yakov Smirnoff, Tony Orlando and many others start shows in Branson. The new Five Star Theater opened its doors. The IMAX first started in Branson in 1993. Along came 1994 and again, more and more is added to Branson’s venues. The Lawrence Welk Resort and Champagne Theater opens. The $25,000 Game Show debuts in Branson. Will Rogers Follies begins its Branson run. The wonderful Radio City Rockettes begin shows in Branson. The Branson popular, Country Tonight started shows too.
Branson was going through an immense amount of growth all dating back to the Times article in 1991. The follow up by the impressive, televised, 60 minutes episode was the knock out punch. In 1995, Branson made a home to the Dixie Stampede and the Showboat Branson Belle. Both performances were, and still are, dinner shows. Growth just continued through the 90’s. In 1997, the Shepherd of the Hills became America’s most performed outdoor drama with its 5,000th show. That is a lot of shows!! Just before the 2000 millennium, Branson received a few more treats. The Grand Palace, started in 1992, announced that it would host legendary stars for select dates. Branson would now have performers like The Oak Ridge Boys, Tony Bennett, Charlie Pride, LeeAnn Rymes, Jeff Foxworthy, and many more. Even the Miss USA Pageants were to be held at the Grand Palace with Donald Trump there in person. Donald Trump in Branson, Missouri! It was big news for the whole town.
Times continue to change and Branson, once again is setting record numbers of tourists, performers, attractions, and activities. Highway 65 was again widened and improved to a complete 4 lane Hwy. Southern 65 to Arkansas has expanding to a 4 lane. The new Titanic Museum opened its doors recently. New roads have been added to Branson to aid in navigating around the town. Roads like Green Mountain Drive, Hwy 376, Fall Creek Road, Gretna, Hwy 165, and more. The Ozark Mountain Highroad now provides a direct highway to Silver Dollar City and Shepherd of the Hills play. Tourists no longer have to travel all the way down 76 like in previous times. The "strip," Hwy 76 is packed with all the shopping, museums, activities and attractions you could imagine. The newest shopping development is an entire lake front shopping community in historic downtown Branson. The Branson Landing has opened and it bringing in thousands of new visitors. It hosts a Bass Pro Shops, Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, and 100’s of shops and restaurants. There is live entertainment, a public transportation system to get folks around, and an amazing light, water show at their infamous fountains. A city, within a city is what a lot of people feel the Branson Landing is. Over 400 million dollars went into building the project. The City of Branson owns the land, but leases it to the developing company of the Branson Landing. So as Branson continues to grow, we will be here offering to share the amazing atmosphere of family entertainment and moral fiber. The folks that live in the Ozarks are a wonderful bunch of people. You will experience small town courtesy like you’ve never seen before. It is truly a magical experience.