on April 1, 1912 with about 1,200 residents. Shortly
there after, the idea of Branson as a resort town
began to take root. Several industries and
infrastructure emerged for a resort community to
evolve which included a commercial ice plant, a soft drink
bottling plant, a candy factory, an ice cream
factory next to the waterfront and, soon, dams
creating lakes. The first visitors to Branson,
Missouri were lured by the water.
In 1907, Harold Bell
Wright published the novel Shepherd of the Hills
which tells about 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 from his experiences - part fact, part legend,
part dream. The novel gained popularity quickly and
attracted many tourist to see the area he wrote
about. The Shepherd of The Hills novel has become a
widely read book and had over a dozen television
productions and eight movies made from it.
The first dam across the White River created Lake
Taneycomo, which became a byword for those who loved
the challenge of bass fishing, and for those who
loved the serenity of the placid lake. The dam and
lake also created a resort town that was known
nationwide as Rockaway Beach. The water drew
enthusiasts, adventurers who relished the challenge
of the unknown. By the 1930's, Lake Taneycomo had
become an inexpensive vacation get away. The area
enjoyed increasing tourism due to its easy
accessibility by car or train and the popularity of
the Shepherd of The Hills novel. Branson's
tourism helped the town businesses survive through
the Depression and banking industry failures.
After World War II, many
craftsmen, artists, and retirees came to the area.
In the late 1940's the Hugo Herschend family
visiting from Chicago were struck with the potential
of the area, as well as that of Marvel Cave, which
drew a few thousand people a year. The family leased
the cave from Lynch's daughters and moved here.
Hugo, Mary and their sons, Jack and Peter, worked to
establish cave tours. When Hugo died, the three
continued, improving the cave and exploring new
areas for development.
Not everyone could or
would make the difficult journey into its depths.
Some waited above ground. It was Mary who realized
these people needed to be entertained while they
waited. She planned that several women would make
crafts and show them in keeping with the heritage of
the hills. Thus was born Silver Dollar City, so
named for the change first given customers. It
opened in 1960, with a single street of shops (still
present today) and a
for the construction of Table Rock Dam began in
1954, and was completed in 1959. The water rose to
its expected average level, and Branson's citizens
were relieved that floods no longer threatened their
waterfront. Tourists came in growing numbers to
enjoy the big new lake, 1890's
Silver Dollar City theme park, and the new
outdoor theater at the Shepherd of the Hills Farm.
Resorts near Branson and downstream were encouraging
their guests to fish and visit the area's new
attractions. Lake Taneycomo was too cold for
swimming now that it was fed by the deep cold waters
of Table Rock Lake, although it quickly became a
first class trout fishing lake. Meanwhile, an
enterprising family, the Mabes, from Springfield,
Missouri began the Ozarks Jubilee, a music show. In
1959, the Mabes moved their show to the basement of
Branson City Hall, where they set up 50 folding
chairs. Since their "theatre" was also the police
station, they had to put away the stage after every
performance. The group called themselves the
Baldknobbers: there were 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."
homemade too. The men's wives stood beside Highway
65 with signs. The band traveled and promoted the
show and the wives mailed out invitations. We were
gone from home so much, "Bill says, "the women
figured if they couldn't lick us, they'd join us."
So after work in Nixa and Ozark, the men would drive
by their homes and their wives would jump in the
cars armed with sandwiches for evenings meals. Off
they would drive to Branson to entertain.
Sports people on the
Table Rock side needed entertaining, too. Another
musical family from Springfield took their show
there. The Presley family played in a cave, the
Underground Theatre of Lakeview, some five miles
north of Kimberling City. The cave was damp.
Sometimes the instruments got wet. Plus, the
Presleys found the location was out of the way.
Branson had developed into the base for travelers to
Silver Dollar City and Shepherd of the Hills, a
farmstead/attraction that featured an open air
production based on Wright's novel.
So the Presleys put up
a simple metal building on the road west of Branson.
And they waited. "Some nights we would all stand out
in front and watch for car lights coming down the
road, hoping they would turn in here," says Gary
Presley. Everyone in that family helped out too.
They did double and triple duty. After performing,
they cleaned the building. And during
intermission, 10-year-old Steve dropped his
drumsticks and ran to the parking lot to tape bumper
stickers on cars.
In 1960, when tourism
increased rapidly in the area, the Missouri Pacific
cancelled all passenger service on its White River
Line. With so many visitors forced to arrive by
automobile, traffic on winding U.S. 65 to
Springfield often slowed to a crawl.
To shorten and
straighten the 75 mile route to 40 miles, blasting
crews and earth moving equipment constructed a road
through the limestone hills between Springfield and
Branson. 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. At that time,
businesses were just beginning to develop along 76
west of Branson with only a few scattered shops and
five music shows. A decade later, eleven more music
shows and many restaurants, motels and tourist
attractions had extended the built up area three
miles further west. The number of music shows, which
started with the Baldknobbers in 1957 and increased
to sixteen in the 1980's, now exceeds thirty; and
with the addition of the Ozark Mountain Christmas
Celebration, and the ever-growing Hot Winter Fun, the tourist season
ix practically year round.
The legendary Roy Clark
was the first of the national country stars to
recognize the potential here, giving his name to
a theatre. He was followed soon by Boxcar Willie, the
first to settle permanently in Branson. Now, the
names on theatres and billboards read like a Music Who's Who: Moe
Bandy, Glen Campbell, Mickey Gilley, Cristy Lane,
Charlie Pride, Bob Nichols, Eddie Rabbit, Kenny
Rogers, Jim Stafford, Mel Tillis, Buck Trent, Jimmy
Travis, Jennifer, Doug Gabriel, Yakov, Don Williams,
New York's radio City Music Hall Rockettes, John Davidson, the Lawrence Welk
Show with the Lennons, the Osmonds, Tony Orlando,
Shoji Tabachi, Bobby Vinton, and Andy Williams. Even
Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, has found his
way to Branson. and Buck Trent. Various theatres
feature guest appearances by other stars such as
Although the music
scene is broadening, the area maintains its culture
of the American "country" with family values and
family activities. As you look around, you see
shopping lights, excitement, people, action and more
development. It seems everything has changed.
Residents work to preserve the natural Ozarks'
beauty while accommodating development. They strive to maintain the small
town family atmosphere, the friendliness and trust
of the Ozarks.