As a little town nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Branson has become an international tourist destination visited by millions of tourists annually.
Visitors to this world's entertainment capital come to enjoy world-class live shows offering a variety of entertainments, dozens of exciting attractions, clean and crystal-clear waters of the pristine lakes, shopping and dining opportunities, and so much more. If you are wondering how the tourism in Branson started, let's take a look at the things that happened in Branson the last century.
The first tourist attraction in Branson happened in 1884 after some of the folks in the area saw a cave. When William Lynch discovered it and saw the potential of tourism in the area, he bought the cave. Together with his daughters Miriam and Genevieve, they moved from Chicago to Branson and opened the cave for tours. After his death and with a name given as "Marvel Cave," the daughters continued to operate the attraction until 1950.
When Hugo and Mary Herschend, along with their two teenage sons, Peter and Jack, leased the cave and the surrounding land from them, they took over the operation and the management of the cave. The Herschend family has been operating Marvel Cave ever since and to this day. As the oldest and the longest-running attraction in Branson, Marvel Cave played an essential role in the construction of the Silver Dollar City.
If not for the cave, Silver Dollar City might not have existed. In 1960, Marvel Cave became a favorite destination by many Branson visitors, and by 1984, it became a tourist attraction. The admission ticket to Marvel Cave includes a ticket to Silver Dollar City. Of all the exciting caves near Branson, Marvel Cave is the nearest to Branson downtown.
Harold Bell Wright's "Shepherd of the Hills" has contributed in many ways to the success of tourism in Branson. The creation of the book started when Harold Bell Wright moved to the Ozarks from Kansas and lived in at the property of John and Anna Ross in 1898. He was so moved by his new home, Wright wrote the novel in 1907 as a tribute to the Ozarks' beauty and people. The book had immediately sold millions of copies.
The novel is about the life, love, adventures, and folklore of the people living in the Ozarks. Visitors are coming to see where the Shepherd and the folks have lived, as described in the story. The book "Shepherd of the Hills" is credited with the start of tourism in Branson.
Ever since 1959, the area has been brought to life near the very spot where Harold Bell Write wrote the novel. The story in the book is re-enacted by more than 90 actors, and a cast of animals, which includes horses, donkeys, mules, and sheep, represents this epic story in an amphitheater under the stars in the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama.
Tourism in Branson spiked for over a century after the book has been published, many visitors have started to inquire about the location of "Old Matt's Cabin," which is at the Ross homestead, as Wright called it in the novel. Other businesses capitalized on the success of the novel, opening businesses named after characters in the book, such as The Sammy Lane Resort.
The establishment of the Owen Theatre in Branson is one of the things that happened in the Ozarks region, which became a part of the success of tourism in Branson. The theatre was built in 1936 by Jim Owen, a local float trip operator on the White River. It was erected on the White River to provide entertainment for the fishermen when they weren't fishing.
Owen Theatre was initially called the "Hillbilly Theatre" and the first movie theatre to open in Branson. Located in historic downtown, Owen Theatre is still operating until now as a theater, and its unique architecture and incredible interior stone walls make it one of the most unique buildings in Branson.
The Baldknobbers Show that was started by the Mabe family in 1959 is credited as being the first show in Branson, and aptly called as the "show that started it all." Interestingly, the Mabe family did not perform in the first theater in Branson, the "Owen Theatre," but in a tiny rented space in a community building located right behind the Owen Theatre.
Having brought the first music show in Branson six decades ago, the famous Baldknobbers is still bringing great music, and big comedy acts to their fans. If you enjoy watching country music, down-home gospel, and old-fashioned comedy, Baldknobbers Show is for you.
With the opening of Silver Dollar City in 1960, it suddenly became a part of the tourism boom in Branson. This 1880's styled theme park offered visitors that time steam train ride, demonstrating craftsmen, theme shops and music, and a tour to Marvel Cave. By 1963, Silver Dollar City was Missouri's top tourist attraction, and in 1967, the popular TV show, "Beverly Hillbillies," filmed several episodes in the park.
The Presleys (local musical family), also began playing their shows in the Underground Theatre just west of Branson in 1963. Today, four generations of Presleys continue to fill the stage and deliver the same great entertainment that has captivated audiences for almost six decades.
In 1967, the Presley family had established a theatre on State Highway 76, west of the Branson city limits where they began performing Presleys' Country Jubilee. They still continue to entertain Branson audiences with their great music, along with some of the original casts.
The show that the Presleys have started is the first presentation on what is today, the famous "Branson Strip," running from the intersection of Fall Creek Road and Highway 76 to the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway's junction. The Strip is now home to many Branson's shows and attractions and is visited by millions of visitors each year.
After reading many of the things mentioned above that happened in the Ozarks region for the last century, you will learn a piece of history and some essential facts on how tourism in Branson started.