History of Branson
Branson, Missouri is known today as the "Live Music Capital of the World", but it has a rich history dating back to its first days in the 1800's. Starting with a small store at a riverboat stop, the city now boasts over 40 theaters with 60,000 theater seats, over 70 live shows, over 350 restaurants, three lakes, 9 golf courses, over 200 retail outlets, dozens of attractions, caves to explore and year round activities and entertainment.
Here is a brief time capsule of Branson's history.
1837: Taney County was established with Forsyth, a popular and important river town, named as county seat.
1882: Rueben Branson opened a general store which became the post office and was listed as Branson, Missouri - obviously named after Rueben. During the 1880's & 90's one of the largest industries in the area was tomato canning.
1884: Settlers began to move to the Ozarks for the promise of free land and the area was homesteaded on 160 acre lots.
1894: William Henry Lynch bought a cave 6 miles outside of Branson. Later, the Marvel Cave would become a tourist attraction in the heart of Silver Dollar City.
1903: The men who founded Branson were planning an industrial center that would generate trainload after trainload of logs, lumber, and manufactured products for the world outside the Ozarks.
1904: A new bank, livery stable and hotel, and resorts began to spring up to accommodate travelers and fisherman.
1907: "The Shepherd of the Hills," a book written by Harold Bell Wright about this area of the Ozarks, was published and became a nationwide best seller. Overnight, tourists from across the country began coming to "Shepherd of the Hills Country" and tourism was born.
1912: This was a banner year for Branson with incorporation on April 1 with 1200 residents, and the idea of Branson as a resort began to take root. Major industry came to Branson in the form of The Winch Spoke Company, which built spokes and wagon parts, and American Pencil Company of New York established a logging factory in Branson. The business section of Branson burned in August of 1912 and was rebuilt. The Powersite Dam at Ozark Beach created Lake Taneycomo with its construction in 1912 and 1913.
1914: The women of Branson, many of whom were employed or helped operate family businesses, organized a Civic League. They began a decades long effort to beautify the streets, establish parks, and make life better in their community. This included a well-equipped municipal bathing beach and picnic grounds on Lake Taneycomo.
Post World War II: Many artists, craftsmen and retirees came to the area, along with returning servicemen and war industry workers. Branson proved to be the perfect spot for a growing hand-craft community.
1949: Hugo and Mary Herschend bought the Marvel Cave from Mr. Lynch's daughters and began square dances in the cave. Artist Steve Miller and businessman Joe Todd, with the help of local carpenters, created and constructed a huge lighted Adoration Scene on the bluff of Mount Branson overlooking the downtown and Lake Taneycomo. The crèche's figures, up to 28 feet tall, were lighted on the first day of December in front of thousands of awe-struck visitors, beginning a Branson tradition.
1953: With more people coming for the lighting of the Adoration Scene each year, the Chamber of Commerce included with the lighting of the scene the Adoration Parade, adding to the long history of other Branson parades. Today it draws crowds as large as 30,000 people.
1959: The first show in Branson, The Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree Show, opened, taking the name of their show from a vigilante group of the Civil War Era which roamed the area making their own justice.
1960: "Shepherd of the Hills" opened its Old Mill Theater and Silver Dollar City opened its doors for the first time as a theme park. The Presley Family began a music show in the Underground Theatre, now known as Talking Rocks Cavern near Branson West. Just as tourism began to increase rapidly in the area, the Missouri Pacific canceled its service on the White River Line. With so many visitors now arriving by automobile travel often slowed to a crawl on the 75 mile winding route between Springfield and Branson. So, dynamite crews and massive earth moving equipment blasted a new road through our limestone hills, shortening the route to 40 miles.
1963: Table Rock Dam was completed and the area's largest man-made lake, Table Rock Lake, was formed.
1964: The Baldknobbers music show moves into a downtown Branson theater.
1967: The Presley family opened the first theater on "the Strip," Hwy. 76.
1968: The Baldknobbers moved to a theater on Hwy. 76. The movement to Hwy. 76 had begun and the first two shows were followed closely by the Plummer Family Music Show on West Hwy. 76.
1974: The Foggy River Boys, who had been performing since 1971 at a theater in Kimberling City, moved to Hwy. 76. Mutton Hollow Entertainment Park opens. A four lane by-pass was completed in the mid-1970's routing traffic away from Branson's congested downtown district, creating interchanges at Hwy. 76 and Hwy. 248, and a new bridge across Lake Taneycomo. At that time, businesses were just beginning to develop along W. Hwy. 76 with only a few scattered shops and music shows. Today the number of theaters top 40 and there are over 70 live theater shows.
1981: The Wilkerson Brothers Theater, Hee Haw Theater and Starlite Theater are completed.
1983: While tourism remained steady throughout the 1970's and 1980's, 1983 marked the start of a tremendous boom. The Swiss Villa with 7,500 seats opens. The Lowe Family moves to "The Strip." The Roy Clark Celebrity Theater, The Thunderbird Theater, and the Echo Hollow Amphitheater at Silver Dollar City open.
1984: The Braschlers Music Show opens in the old Lowe's Theater. Musicland USA opens with the Lester Family and The Sons of the Pioneers opens at Lowe's theater
1985: The Braschlers Music Show moves to Musicland USA, The Hee Haw Theater becomes Country Music World and the Sons of the Pioneers join the Foggy River Boys.
1986: The Texans join Bob Mabe and open the Texans/Bob-O-Links Music Show. The Ozark Mountain Amphitheater opens with 8,500 seats.
1987: "Box Car Willie" becomes the first celebrity entertainer to perform on a permanent schedule in his own theater. Campbell's Ozark Country Jubilee and the 76 Music Hall open their doors.
1988: The first Ozark Mountain Christmas is held and The Factory Merchants Mall opens.
1989: Inspiration Tower opens at Shepherd of the Hills. Shoji Tabuchi opens a music show. Christy Lane buys the Starlite Theater and Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass perform at Country Music World.
1990: Shoji Tabuchi moves to Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. Mel Tillis moves to Branson and starts a music show. Mickey Gilley starts a new theater.
1991: National news organizations "discover" Branson. In August of 1991 "Time" magazine published a story about their "discovery" of Branson and the interest by that media giant was followed closely by coverage in "People," "The Los Angeles Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." "60 Minutes" put the television spotlight on this small town in the Ozarks that had more theater seats than Broadway and a host of impressive names headlining its then 22 theaters.
1992: Mel Tillis and Andy Williams each open their own theaters. Willie Nelson plays at the Ozark Theater and Jim Stafford starts performing at Stars of the Ozark Theater. Kenny Rogers and Silver Dollar City start the Grand Palace. The Osmonds and Jennifer Wilson come to town.
1993: Pump Boys and Dinettes, John Davidson, Tony Orlando, Bobby Vinton, Five Star Theater, Yakov Smirnoff, IMAX, Branson Scenic Railways and Wayne Newton all start shows and open venues in Branson.
1994: The Polynesian Princess sets sail on Table Rock Lake. Charley Pride, The Welk Resort & Champagne Theater, $25,000 Game Show, Will Rogers Follies, Radio City Rockettes and Country Tonite all open shows.
1995: The Dixie Stampede and The Showboat Branson Belle open their new dinner theaters.
1997: Shepherd of the Hills becomes America's most performed outdoor drama with it 5,000th show.
1999: Grand Palace opened its doors to feature a host of legendary stars appearing for select dates. The Oak Ridge Boys, Tony Bennett, Charlie Pride, LeeAnn Rymes and more.
Every year holds new surprises for the residents and guests of Branson, as familiar faces thrill and entertain our audiences while talented new ones continue to join the ranks of Branson veterans. The changing seasons bring a panorama of the mountains, valleys, and lakes of our beautiful Ozarks. The scenic beauty of the lakes, fabulous fishing and water sports keep the outdoor enthusiasts busy. The list of challenging world-class golf courses continue to grow along with the number of outlet stores (somewhere over 200) and other one-of-a-kind shops. Daily life in Branson is history in the making.