Branson: A history of great entertainment
BRANSON, MO - Seven million people currently visit the small Midwestern town that has become the home to more than 45 theaters and 80 shows, world-class fishing and family theme parks. What was dubbed an "overnight success" in the early 1990s is actually a town seeped in lore and rich in history shaped by Mother Nature, American Indians and backwoods legends.
Since the dawn of the 20th Century, Branson, Missouri, has been attracting visitors, lured by natural beauty and outdoor recreational activities. The traveling public was first drawn to Branson following the 1907 publication of Harold Bell Wright's novel, "The Shepherd of the Hills." Readers flocked to the Ozarks to learn more about the lifestyle of the characters in the novel. The book's success was almost immediate. Millions of copies were sold in several languages, and four movie versions were filmed. It is now the fourth most widely read book in publishing history.
In those days, visitors came by train, disembarking at Hollister depot, now renovated and preserved as Hollister City Hall. The Missouri-Pacific Railroad completed the track of the White River Line through the Roark Valley in 1906, opening the area to tourism.
The White River also attracted visitors who came to fish, swim and enjoy the rugged beauty of the Ozark Mountains. Ozark Beach Dam (also called the Powersite Dam) built in 1913 near Forsyth produced Lake Taneycomo, which became a haven for boaters and those looking for water recreation.
The construction of Table Rock Dam, 22 miles up river, formed Table Rock Lake. In 1959, Table Rock Dam transformed Lake Taneycomo into a cold water as its waters came from (and still do) the bottom of Table Rock Lake. The water's chilly temperature discouraged swimmers and skiers from using Lake Taneycomo as they had in the past. With water recreation now flourishing at area lakes, the Missouri Department of Conservation discovered that Lake Taneycomo's cold water provided an ideal climate for trout. Over the next years, Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake developed national reputations for boating and water recreation. Anglers also found them to be outstanding sources for bass, crappie, and other panfish.
The area gained national prominence in entertainment in 1954 when Red Foley, a legendary country singer with 38 Top 10 hits moved to Springfield, Missouri to host the "Ozark Jubilee," one of the first successful network television shows.
Locally, the Baldknobbers Jamboree is credited as being Branson's first show. In 1959, the Mabe Brothers, Bill, Jim, Lyle, and Bob began performing twice a week in a converted building on the Lake Taneycomo waterfront. The brothers combined popular country tunes with Ozark Mountain music and threw in a dash of comedy to entertain audiences wherever they could find them. Jim Mabe created one of the most recognized characters in Branson history, Droopy Drawers, and has entertained visitors from around the world. In 1968, the Baldknobbers built a theater on Highway 76 making their act the longest continuously running show in Branson.
In the 1960s, the Presley family began a music show at Underground Theatre (Talking Rocks Cavern) near Kimberling City with special guests from "Ozark Jubilee" including Red Foley himself. They then made history in 1967 when they opened the first music theater on what is now Highway 76. Gary Presley created the comic character Herkimer who, since 1962, has kept audiences in stitches and has taken his place among legendary Branson icons.
In 1960, two families opened businesses that became popular family-oriented attractions in the Branson/Lakes Area. Hugo and Mary Herschend opened a small old-time Ozarks village attraction atop the long-popular Marvel Cave, about 10 miles west of Branson on Highway 76. They called it Silver Dollar City and offered an 1880s steam train ride, country shops, crafts and music.
Following Hugo's death, Mary and her sons Jack and Peter continued to direct the growth of the family businesses, which have now expanded to include other popular Branson attractions: White Water, Grand Village Shops and the Showboat Branson Belle. Today it has grown into a multi-million dollar entertainment complex with rides and amusements, shows, dining facilities, dozens of musicians, and an evening music show with a professional cast. The park also hosts five themed festivals each year. In 1998, Silver Dollar City was given the Applause Award by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions as the best theme park in the world.
A few miles east of Silver Dollar City, Dr. Bruce Trimble and his wife Mary began staging an outdoor pageant based on the world-famous novel "The Shepherd of the Hills." The amphitheater was purposely located on the site where the models for author Harold Bell Wright's characters lived. Under Mary's and their son Mark's direction, following the death of Dr. Trimble, the pageant grew into one of the nation's most popular ongoing outdoor historical dramas. A theme park was subsequently developed on the old homestead's acreage. Branson businessman Gary Snadon has since bought the historic homestead and theme park and continues to develop it as a historical landmark and leading family attraction.
Through the rest of the 60s and 70s, a growing number of entertainers continued to appear in Branson, and a milestone was reached in 1983 when the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre, the first to be linked to a celebrity entertainer, opened. Other stars such as The Sons of the Pioneers and BoxCar Willie followed suit.
During the gasoline shortage in the '70's, Ozark ingenuity saved the community. Approximately 85% of all visitors drive to Branson. The oil crunch hampered visitors' ability to made the trip. As a result, a group of Branson businessmen got together and purchased a supply of gasoline. The "If you get here, we'll get you back" promotion was born. Those visitors who drive into Branson were able to fill up at no charge so they could make the trip back home.
As Branson began to gain a reputation in the 1980s for wholesome, family-oriented performances, entertainers migrated to the area. More theaters, hotels and attractions were constructed and the town began to build its reputation as an entertainment center. Locals and visitors alike could feel the electricity in the! Branson was on its way to international stardom.
Today, Branson is called the "Live Entertainment Capital of the World" with more than 80 live shows running daily from morning to night, dozens of attractions and more than 200 outlet retailers. Branson is known as a one-of-a-kind experience, a unique blend of neon and nature where big-name performers, world-class fishing and attractions galore attract visitors from around the world.
BRANSON/LAKES AREA MAJOR MILESTONES
1907 - Harold Bell Wright's novel, "The Shepherd of the Hills," is published.
1913 - The Ozark Beach Dam creates Bull Shoals Lake and turns a section of the White River into Lake Taneycomo.
1959 - Table Rock Dam is completed, forming Table Rock Lake and transforming Lake Taneycomo into a cold water lake.
1959 - The Baldknobbers Jamboree, a country music show named for a turn-of-the-century Ozarks vigilante gang, opens in downtown Branson.
1960 - Mary and Hugo Herschend open a small, old-time Ozarks village attraction atop the long popular Marvel Cave.
1960 - Mary and Bruce Trimble begin an outdoor pageant based on the novel "Shepherd of the Hills," by Harold Bell Wright. Located on the site where the models for Wright's characters lived, the pageant grows into a popular national historical drama and eventually evolves into The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre.
1963 - The Presley family begins a music show at Underground Theater (Talking Rocks Cavern).
1967 - The Presley family makes history when they opened the first music show on what is today Highway 76 "The Strip." Today four generations of the Presley family perform in the Presleys' Country Jubilee.
1968 - The Baldknobbers Jamboree open a theater on Highway 76 at their present day location.
1970 - Mutton Hollow, a replica of an old Country Fair featuring an antique carousel and Ferris wheel, opens.
1971 - The Foggy River Boys open a music show in Kimberling City.
1974 - The Foggy River Boys move from Kimberling City to Highway 76 in Branson.
1973 - The Plummer Family Music Show opens on Highway 76.
1976 - Bob Mabe leaves the Baldknobbers Jamboree and opens Bob-O-Links Country Hoedown.
1981 - The Wilkinson Brothers Theatre, Hee Haw Theatre and first Starlite Theatre are completed.
1981 - Presleys' Country Jubilee is expanded to 2,000 seats making it the largest theater in Branson.
1981 - The Lowe family opens a music show on Indian Point near Silver Dollar City.
1982 - Chisai Childs purchases the Starlight Theatre.
1983 - The Roy Clark Celebrity Theater, the first to be permanently linked to a widely known entertainer, opens.
1983 - The Lowe family moves to a new theater on West Highway 76 in Branson.
1984 - The Sons of the Pioneers begin regular performances at Lowe's Theater in Branson.
1984 - The Braschler Music Show opens on Indian Point.
1984 - Musicland USA opens on Gretna Road just off Highway 76.
1985 - The Braschler Music Show moves to the Musicland USA theater.
1985 - Bill and Janet Daily buy the Hee Haw Theatre and open as Country Music World.
1985 - The Sons of the Pioneers move to the Foggy River Boys Theatre.
1986 - Ozark Mountain Amphitheater opens, with seating capacity of 8,500 and featuring guest artists.
1986 - The Lowe Sisters are the first Branson entertainers to appear on the Grand Ole Opry.
1986 - The Sons of the Pioneers are named to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
1987 - BoxCar Willie is the first celebrity entertainer to buy a theater and perform on a permanent basis.
1988 - Several music shows, attractions, accommodations and other businesses stay open into November and December during the first-ever Ozark Mountain Christmas.
1989 - Christie Lane purchases the Starlite Theater.
1989 - Japanese violinist and entertainer Shoji Tabuchi opens a music show in the newly renovated Ozark Theater.
1990 - Mickey Gilley opens Mickey Gilley's Family Theater.
1990 - Mel Tillis opens the Mel Tillis Theater.
1990 - 76 Music Hall becomes the first theater to offer three different shows daily.
1990 - Jim Stafford begins performing at the Stars of the Ozarks Theatre.
1990 - Darrel and Rosie Plummer of the Plummer Family Theatre retire from the stage, selling their theater to entertainer Moe Bandy.
1991 - Mutton Hollow Craft Village undergoes a million-dollar expansion with three staged entertainment facilities. The 22-year old attraction draws more than 500,000 visitors annually.
1991 - Branson is featured on the CBS television news magazine show "60 Minutes."
1991 - Ray Stevens, Moe Bandy, and Buck Trent all open theaters.
1991 - Construction begins on the 4,000-seat Grand Palace.
1991 - Jim Stafford announces the purchase of the Stars of the Ozarks Theatre.
1992 - Andy Williams opens the Moon River Theatre.
1992 - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard perform at the Ozark Theater.
1992 - Dino Kartsonakis, Willie Nelson, The Gatlin Brothers and Jimmie Rodgers open theaters.
1992 - The Osmond Brothers open the Osmond Family Theatre and plan an entertainment, shopping and lodging complex called Branson Meadows.
1993 - Wayne Newton, John Davidson, Tony Orlando and "Pump Boys and Dinettes" theaters open.
1993 - Jim Stafford moves next door into the former Lowe's Theatre, his present location.
1993 - The Grand Village, a themed shopping and entertainment complex, opens.
1993 - Ozarks Discovery IMAX Theatre opens, featuring a 550-seat facility that features a six-story screen.
1993 - Loretta Lynn performs at the Ozark Theater.
1993 - Branson Scenic Railway offers passenger excursions into the Ozarks from its historic depot. Trains feature Vista-Dome cars and lights meals.
1993 - Yakov Smirnoff begins his show.
1994 - Country Tonite Theater, and Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum opens.
1994 - Illusionist Kirby Van Burch and singer Doug Gabriel open shows.
1994 - The Lawrence Welk Champagne Theatre opens with featured entertainers the Lennon Sisters, Jo Ann Castle, the Lennon Brothers, and many other entertainers from the late Welk's long-running television program.
1994 - Mickey Gilley opens his new theater on Highway 76. His former theater had been destroyed by fire in 1993. Entertainer Jim Owen performs morning shows at Gilley's.
1994 - The Grand Palace announces that the Radio City Rockettes will be featured in November and December when the famous Radio City Music Hall Spectacular is performed for the first time outside of New York.
1994 - Bill and Janet Daily purchase the Moe Bandy Theatre from Bandy, who will continue headlining the evening shows.
1995 - The $13 million Showboat Branson Belle, a football field-size showboat featuring meal cruises and live entertainment in its three-story opera house, takes its maiden voyage.
1995 - The Dixie Stampede, a Dollywood project, opens a food and fun extravaganza where guests enjoy dinner, pageantry and old-south entertainment.
1995 - The Braschler's new theater, the Magical Mansion, and the Gettysburg Theatre all open.
1995 - The first Hot Winter Fun is held January-March.
1996 - The Hollywood Wax Museum, Barbara Fairchild, Jennifer's Americana Theatre, Wild Wild West Show, Red, Hot and Blue and The Promise open.
1997 - Chateau on the Lake opens as a world-class resort featuring 302 rooms and a 32,000-foot convention center.
1997 - Yakov's American Pavilion, the Remington Theatre, and Positive Country Theater open.
1998 - Pam Tillis joins her father, Mel Tillis for weekly performances at the Mel Tillis Theater.
1998 - Jim Stafford, in a unique display of technology, combines rear screen projection with 3-D imagery on America's largest stereoscopic rear screen, to create one of America's most unusual entertainment and production shows.
1999 - Silver Dollar City's new water roller coaster, Buzz Saw Falls opens - this ride is a first of its kind.
1999 - Spirit of the Dance opens at the Grand Mansion. It is a dance and musical show in the tradition of "Lord of the Dance."
2000 - Branson Creek Golf Course opens
2000 - Buzz Saw Falls opens at Silver Dollar City
2000 - Raintree Island opens at White Water
2000 - Bart Rocket opens at the Magical Palace
2001 - Wildfire opens at Silver Dollar City
2001 - Gatlin Brothers Christmas Reunion show opens at the MGH Center for the Performing Arts
2001 - The Duttons purchase and rename the BoxCar Willie Theater to the Dutton Family Theater
2002 - Newly renovated White House Theatre (formerly the Promise Theatre) opens.
2002 - The renovation of the Kirkwood Motel into the Music City Centre opens featuring the Haygoods.
2002 - The Majestic Theatre welcomes legendary stars Ed McMahon and Barbara Fairchild.
New in 2003
2003 - The Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation's $40 million theme park Celebration City, opens.
2003 - Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff welcomes superstar Pam Tillis to his What a Country Theatre.
2003 - Roy Rogers Dale Evans Museum and Happy Trails Theater opens in spring.
2003 - White Water adds a new double-speed slide, Raging River Rapids