When most folks around the United States think of Branson, chances are that they think of bluegrass music Highway 76, affectionately known by locals as ‘The Strip’ or the ‘Main Drag.’ Or Silver Dollar City may come to mind, with the world famous wooden roller coaster Outlaw Run and piping hot, melt in your mouth funnel cakes. Images of the Table Rock Dam, the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider, White Water and Tanger Outlet Malls can be thought of when the name Branson is tossed around. But have you ever wondered what came BEFORE all that? Just where did Branson come from, and how did it get to be one of the most popular vacation destinations in America? Read on for a little Branson history!
For a long time, the Southwest Missouri area was just like any other frontier – wild, rugged and unclaimed. Slowly civilization began to trickle in from more densely populated areas, and in 1882, a man named Reuben Branson opened a post office and general store in the Ozark Mountains. The area where he staked his claim with his post office and store soon took on the shape of a real town, and in 1912, the site became officially incorporated as a township by the name of Branson, Missouri, named after Reuben Branson himself.
Before Branson became a federally recognized town, locals were already getting a jump on attracting tourists from outside areas. In 1894, William Henry Lynch purchased a local cavern that went by the name Marble Cave, switched the name to Marvel Cave, and began charging visitors a fee to tour the cavern. In 1907, Harold Bell Wright’s timeless classic ‘The Shepherd of the Hills’ book was published, and tourists began flocking to the area to see this strangely exotic place and the people Wright had so vividly written of.
After Branson became a dot on national maps, still more exciting entrepreneurial ventures were launched. 1959 marked the finish date of the long awaited Table Rock Dam, as well as the first live music show on The Strip, the Baldknobbers Jamboree. Also in the 1950s, the Herschend family leased Marvel Cave and began hosting square dances inside the cavern – something most people had never contemplated before! They restructured the cave by adding electricity and staircases, and in 1960, the Herschends’ opened the now world famous Silver Dollar City, which was back then a replicated frontier town where actors and actresses played out the ‘Hatfield and McCoy’ story. That same year, Shepherd of the Hills began showing the famous book as an outdoor drama, and people flocked to Branson in droves.
The number of shows and unique activities in Branson continued to grow and today, it is the live entertainment capitol of the United States. And it’s easy to see why, with the world’s tallest ZipRider and fastest wooden coaster calling it home, and with anglers from across the nation coming to cast a line in the lakes, and with notoriously good home cooking located on every street! The Branson history is part of what gives this place its charm, and will keep you coming back year after year.