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Branson, Missouri History
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Branson, Missouri - A Brief History

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 theater shows, over 200 lodging facilities with over 23,000 lodging rooms, 5,000 camping spaces, over 350 restaurants, three lakes, 9 golf courses, over 200 retail outlets, numerous 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.

1991: Shepherd of the Hills and Ray Stevens start the Ray Stevens Theater. Moe Bandy opens the American Theater and Buck Trent opens a dinner theater.

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.

2000: Silver Dollar City opened its Red-Gold Heritage Hall entertainment facility. The name, "Red-Gold," refers to the time of the huge tomato harvests here in the Ozarks. At that time the canned, train-load shipments were referred to as being "Red Gold."

2000: Branson Creek Golf Club opened. It is a Tom Fazio designed 18 hole championship course.

2001: Silver Dollar City opened Wildfire, another massive roller-coaster thrill ride.

2001: The Duttons purchased and renamed the Box Car Willie Theater. It became the Dutton Family Theater. They also began building lodging and shopping facilities there.

2002: The Kirkwood Motel was completely rebuilt and renovated into Music City, a combination theater and motel. The Haygoods were the opening act there.

2002: The Promise Theater was renovated into the White House Theater and opened.

2003: The Herschends and Silver Dollar City opened their $40,000,000 Celebration City theme park on the West edge of Branson. It was formerly Branson USA, opened in 1999 by the Bob Wehr family.

2003: The Highway 13 Bypass, connecting Branson West to 160, north of Reeds Spring and The Junction, was completed June 3rd, 2003, at a cost of 19 million dollars. It was started in February of 1999. This removed all through traffic from Reeds Spring and allowed rapid travel both north and south.

2004: Ground breaking ceremonies for the Branson Landing project began. The City of Branson would build a new bridge over Roark Creek, with a circle-drive and a new highway to serve the project.

2004: In Branson, there were a number of items on the lakefront built during the Great Depression, during the 1930's, under the auspices of the Works Projects Administration (the WPA). The last of these remaining were the well-worn and beloved old concrete "steps" down by the waterfront. These were removed without ceremony when The Landing was under construction. Also, the "Liberty Tree," the ancient oak believed to be young when "The Liberty Bell" was first rung in Philadelphia in 1776, diseased and probably dangerous, was removed to clear the way for The Landing. The many tree pieces were stored outdoors south of Lampe, Mo.

2004: The Missouri Highway Department began rebuilding all of Highway 65, south of Branson, to the Arkansas line. It became a divided, 4-lane expressway, with overpasses and cloverleaves. It was completed and opening ceremonies held in November of 2006.

2004: The north phase of The Ozark Mountain High Road was completed April 3rd, at a cost of 48 million dollars. It was started in September of 1994. The Herschends were powerfully behind getting the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDot) to start the project. Box Car Willie was one of the many Branson folks who tried to get it stopped, fearing it would divert all of the potential Branson traffic directly to SDC. A south phase, continuing on from 76 to 65 Highway, crossing Taneycomo just below the Table Rock Dam, will be started one day soon.

2005: Ground breaking for the 220,000 square foot Branson Convention Center and the 12-story Branson Hilton Convention Center Hotel, with 553 rooms. They are to open in 2007.

2005: New building construction in Branson achieved $173.5 million. This broke the record $119.5 million, achieved in 1993, at the height of the "theater and motel building boom."

2005: The Branson Mill, a historically themed shopping center, opened on Gretna Road.

2005: The Shang-Hai Theater on Highway 165 opens.

2005: The RecPlex, Branson's 44,000 square foot recreation center, opened on Branson Hills Parkway, near the location of the future Target and Home Depot, far to the north on Highway 65.

2005: Branson opened a unique public services building overlooking Highway 65 at the 76 junction. It is a one-million gallon, concrete water tower. But the "stand" for the 114' tall tower houses 5 stories and 5,600 square feet of office space where the entire Public Works Administrative offices are housed.

2005: At the end of the year, Branson boasted of: 47 theaters with 57,623 seats and more than 100 different shows, 205 motel/hotels with 17,904 rooms (with another 4,000 rooms nearby), and 410 restaurants with 35,266 seats. That's more shows and seating than Las Vegas or Broadway! Wow!

2005: By the end of 2005, Skaggs Hospital had caused 21 satellite facilities to be built around the area and now employed some 150 physicians in all its facilities. Skaggs was joined in the lakes region by a Springfield's Cox Hospital satellite, together with a major satellite clinic and helicopter facility built by St. Johns Hospital, also centered in Springfield.

2005: The Keeter Charcoal business financed the rebuilding of the "Main Hunting and Fishing Lodge" at the College of the Ozarks to replace the aging welcome center and dining facilities there. The original Main building was brought from the 1904 World's Fair and erected at Point Lookout. It became a sportsmen's club for many years. It was finally sold to the "School of the Ozarks" for $15,000, and became their first building. That valuable, historic building later burned to the ground. /p>

2006: The giant new stores, Target and Home Depot, opened in the new 141 acre Branson Hills Plaza area, way north of the Downtown area, on 65 Highway. This will be a three phase development starting with 300,000 square feet of lease space.

2006: The Titanic, The Legend Continues, opened in April on the 76 Strip. It is the largest museum quality production in the world. Regis Philben hosted the grand opening. The outside of the museum/theater is made to look exactly like the front half of the Titanic, complete with the "iceberg," and some of the "Atlantic Ocean," but it is 1?2 the size of the original. Still very BIG!

2006: Opening of the 300 million dollar Branson Landing project. It covers 95 acres on 1.5 miles of Lake Taneycomo waterfront. It has over 100 shops occupying 1.2 million square feet. It is anchored by Belk Department Store with 68M square feet and Bass Pro with 60M square feet of space. It also has luxury condos and a 243 room Hilton full-service hotel, as well as restaurants, cafes and kiosks. It has 3500 parking spaces. The public square can accommodate 5,000 people for festivals and so on.

2006: The Herschends opened the Butterfly Palace on the west edge of Branson's 76 Strip.

2006: Dick Clark's Bandstand Theater and 1957's Auto Show opened across from Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede on the 76 Strip.

2006: Work started on the huge highway bypass to take through-traffic around the rapidly growing Branson West. It will be a limited access, 4-lane expressway with one traffic signal at the junction with 76 Highway through Branson West, going to Branson. It will be completed by MoDot in 2008, at a cost of 23 million dollars.

2007: The new, state-of-the-art Branson Convention Center opens in Branson.

2008: In May, Sight & Sound's brand new, state-of-the-art, 2000-seat theatre opened its doors to the public

2009: The $155 million Branson Airport opens East of Highway 65 and just North of the Missouri-Arkansas border. May 11, 2009 - Branson Airport's first commercial flight, Sun Country Airlines flight SY509 from Minneapolis/St. Paul, touched down at 9:00 AM followed at 11:55 AM by AirTran Airway's flight 1582 from Milwaukee.

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.

 
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