|Branson, MO incorporated, on April 1, 1912, It had 1,200
residents. Shortly there after, the notion of Branson as a resort
town began to take root. The right kind of industry and infrastructure
emerged for a resort community to evolve such as; 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-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-Rockaway
Beach. The water drew enthusiasts, adventures 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
ease of accessibility by car or train from distant or nearby cities
and the Shepherd of The Hills novel. The tourism helped the town's
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
and a stagecoach ride.
Preparations 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, the Herschends' 1890's Silver Dollar City theme
park, and the Trimbles' 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."
Advertising was homemade too. The men's wives stood beside Highway
65 with signs. The band travelled 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 the 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,
the tourist season has increased to nine months.
The legendary Roy Clark was the first of the national country stars
to recognize the potential here, giving his name to theatre. He was
followed soon by Boxcar Willie, the first to settle permanently in
Branson. Now, the names on theatres 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, Pump Boys and Dinettes,
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 Barbara Mandrell.
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, in the midst of economic boom, to maintain the small
town family atmosphere, the friendliness and trust of the Ozarks.
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