The History of Branson, MO: A Quick Read with Fascinating Facts

Jun 17, 2024

The History of Branson, MO: A Quick Read with Fascinating Facts
By Westgate Resorts

The History of Branson, MO: A Quick Read with Fascinating Facts

Branson is known as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World,” but how did it get its name?

When people think of the city today, they often think of all the fun things to do around Branson, like Silver Dollar City, or the best shows in Branson, like Dolly Parton’s Stampede and The Haygoods.

But before these attractions put this city on the map, it was known for many other things: its striking nature, incredible connection to the Ozarks and a fascinating history that dates back to the early 1800s.

Get ready to go on an exciting adventure as we explore Branson’s historical landmarks and delve into this famous Missouri city’s past.

Branson History

Branson's story begins in the late 19th century when Reuben S. Branson, a postmaster and general store owner, established a post office in the area in 1882.

The community began to grow around Branson's store and post office, attracting settlers drawn to the area's natural beauty and resources.

The arrival of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1902 spurred further growth, turning Branson into a thriving town by the early 20th century.

Early settlers were drawn to the region for its fertile land, abundant wildlife and the promise of a new beginning. Farming, logging and mining were the primary occupations of Branson’s early inhabitants.

The town's growth was slow but steady, with the establishment of schools, churches and businesses that catered to the needs of the local population.

Fun Facts About Branson, MO

Theaters, Theaters, Theaters: Branson has over 50 theaters, offering more live shows than Broadway in New York City.

Titanic Museum: The Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson features a half-scale replica of the Titanic and more than 400 artifacts from the ship and its passengers.

Veterans Celebration: The city hosts the annual Branson Veterans Homecoming Week, one of the largest veteran celebrations in the country.

Tourist Destination: Branson became a tourist destination in the early 20th century, primarily due to the publication of Harold Bell Wright's novel "The Shepherd of the Hills.” The book, set in the Ozarks, drew visitors to see the picturesque landscapes described in the story.

The Branson Scenic Railway: It offers a 40-mile round trip through the Ozark Mountains, providing stunning views and a glimpse into the region's rail history.

Silver Dollar City: Serving as one of Branson's most famous attractions, Silver Dollar City opened in 1960. This 1880s-themed amusement park was built around Marvel Cave, a natural wonder that had been a tourist attraction since the late 19th century. This is one of the best fun things to do with kids in Branson!

The Baldknobbers Jamboree: Branson's first live music show started in 1959. This family-run variety show helped pave the way for the city's transformation into a music and entertainment mecca.


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How Branson Got Its Name

The city of Branson is named after Reuben S. Branson, whose post office and general store became the nucleus of the burgeoning community. As the area developed, the name Branson was adopted to honor the man who played a crucial role in its early growth.

The official incorporation of Branson as a city occurred on April 1, 1912 (not an April Fool’s joke), solidifying its identity and setting the stage for its future development.

Reuben Branson's influence on the town extended beyond his business ventures. He was known for his community spirit and dedication to improving the quality of life for the residents.

The Surprising History of Table Rock Lake

Table Rock Lake, one of Branson's most famous attractions, has a fascinating history. Constructed between 1954 and 1958 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lake was created by damming the White River to provide hydroelectric power and flood control for the region.

The project required the relocation of numerous homes and communities, and the lake now covers over 43,000 acres. Today, Table Rock Lake is a hub for recreational activities, including boating, trout fishing in Branson and camping, drawing visitors from around the country.

The creation of Table Rock Lake was a monumental engineering feat. The Table Rock Dam, which created the lake, stands 252 feet high and spans 6,423 feet across.

The dam's construction required the movement of over 3.3 million cubic yards of concrete and the displacement of entire communities. Despite the challenges, the project was completed successfully and has since provided significant benefits to the region.

In addition to its practical purposes, Table Rock Lake has become a major tourist attraction. Its clear water, scenic shoreline and abundant wildlife make it a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

The lake's marinas and resorts offer a range of activities, including fishing, boating, hiking Branson trails and picnicking. Each year, millions of visitors come to enjoy the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that Table Rock Lake provides.

Fun Facts About Table Rock Lake

  • Man-Made Marvel: Table Rock Lake is a man-made reservoir created by the construction of Table Rock Dam on the White River. The dam was completed in 1958 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Size and Depth: The lake spans over 43,000 acres with nearly 800 miles of shoreline. It has an average depth of 75 feet, with some areas reaching depths of over 200 feet.

  • Diving Destination: The lake is also a popular spot for scuba diving, with several underwater attractions, including submerged structures and even an old sunken town that divers can explore.

  • Annual Events: Table Rock Lake hosts a variety of events throughout the year, such as fishing tournaments, boat races and holiday fireworks displays, attracting visitors from all over.

  • Historical Significance: The construction of Table Rock Dam and the creation of the lake were significant engineering feats of their time, intended to provide flood control, hydroelectric power and recreational opportunities.

Historical Sites in Branson

Branson is rich in history with several sites that offer a glimpse into its past. The Bonniebrook Historical Society and Kewpie Museum celebrate the life and work of artist Rose O'Neill, the creator of the Kewpie doll.

The museum displays a collection of O'Neill's artwork, personal items and memorabilia related to her life and career. The surrounding grounds offer beautiful gardens and walking trails, providing a peaceful retreat for visitors.

The Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks showcases artifacts from the Ozarks region, including the original “Beverly Hillbillies” truck.

The Ralph Foster Museum, often referred to as the "Smithsonian of the Ozarks," is located on the campus of the College of the Ozarks.

The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts related to the history and culture of the Ozarks region. Highlights include Native American artifacts, pioneer tools and the original truck used in the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies."

For a step back in time, visitors can explore the historic Downtown Branson area, which features quaint shops, eateries and the Branson Centennial Museum.

Historic Downtown Branson is a charming area filled with shops, restaurants and historical landmarks. Visitors can stroll along brick-lined streets, explore unique boutiques and enjoy a meal at one of the many local eateries.

The Branson Centennial Museum offers exhibits on the city's history, from its early days as a small settlement to its development into a major tourist destination.

Fun Facts About Branson’s Historical Sites

Ralph Foster Museum

  • Ozark History: Located at the College of the Ozarks, the Ralph Foster Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the Ozarks. It houses an extensive collection of artifacts, including the original "Beverly Hillbillies" truck.

  • Educational Purpose: The museum is part of the college’s mission to provide a comprehensive educational experience, offering insight into the region’s cultural and natural history.

Branson Scenic Railway

  • Historic Route: The Branson Scenic Railway operates on a historic route that dates back to the early 20th century. The train travels through the Ozark foothills and tunnels, offering a nostalgic glimpse into the region’s past.

  • Vintage Cars: The railway uses vintage passenger cars from the 1930s and 1940s, providing an authentic historic train experience.

Owen Theatre

  • Historic Venue: Opened in 1936, the Owen Theatre was Branson's first movie theater. It has been restored and now serves as a venue for live performances, preserving its historic charm.

  • Cultural Hub: The theater is a key part of Branson's historic downtown and continues to be a cultural hub for the community.

Veterans Memorial Museum

  • Honoring Veterans: Opened in 2000, the Veterans Memorial Museum honors U.S. military veterans from all branches of service. The museum features exhibits from World War I to the present, including rare military artifacts.

  • Life-Size Sculpture: One of the highlights is a life-size sculpture of 50 soldiers storming a beach, each one modeled after a real veteran, representing every state in the U.S.

Historic Downtown Branson

  • Preserved History: Historic Downtown Branson has retained much of its early 20th-century architecture, with buildings that date back to the town's early days.

  • Shopping and Dining: The area is filled with charming shops, cafes and diners that offer a nostalgic feel and a taste of Branson's past.

Branson's Live Entertainment History

Branson's reputation as a musical hotspot began in the 1950s with the opening of the Baldknobbers Jamboree, the first live music show in the area.

This laid the foundation for Branson's vibrant entertainment scene, which now boasts over 100 live shows, ranging from country and bluegrass to rock n' roll and Broadway-style performances.

Legendary performers like Andy Williams and the Osmond’s have graced Branson's stages, contributing to its nickname, "The Live Music Show Capital of the World."

The Baldknobbers Jamboree was founded by the Mabe brothers, who started performing country music and comedy routines in 1959. Their success inspired other entertainers to set up their own shows in Branson, leading to the development of the city's entertainment industry.

Today, Branson is home to a diverse array of musical performances, from traditional country and gospel music to modern pop and rock concerts.

One of Branson’s most beloved acts is comprised of a family. Known for their high-energy performances and versatile musical talent, The Haygoods have been captivating audiences for over two decades.

The group consists of five brothers and one sister, each showcasing their skills on various instruments, including guitar, violin, piano, saxophone and more.

Their shows are a dynamic mix of musical genres, ranging from country and rock to pop and classical, often featuring intricate harmonies and impressive choreography.

In addition to their musical prowess, The Haygoods incorporate state-of-the-art special effects, including pyrotechnics, light shows and even aerial acrobatics, adding a thrilling visual element to their concerts.

Branson magic shows are also very popular, including Reza’s Edge of Illusion, The Magic of Rick Thomas, Phil Dalton’s Theater of Illusion and many more.

Besides these daily entertainment options, Branson also hosts several music festivals and events throughout the year. The Branson Music Fest, held each spring, features performances by some of the city's top entertainers, along with special guests from around the country.

The Ozark Mountain Christmas celebration, which runs from November through December, includes holiday-themed shows, parades and light displays, drawing visitors from far and wide.

Fun Facts About Branson’s Live Entertainment

  • First Live Show: The Baldknobbers Jamboree, started in 1959 by the Mabe family, was Branson’s first live music show. This variety show, featuring country music and comedy, set the stage for Branson's entertainment scene.

  • The Presley’s Country Jubilee: In 1967, the Presley family opened Branson’s first music theater on Highway 76. Their show, Presley’s Country Jubilee, became a cornerstone of Branson's live entertainment and continues to perform today.

  • Shepherd of the Hills Play: Based on Harold Bell Wright’s novel, the outdoor drama "The Shepherd of the Hills" has been performed since 1960. It's one of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the U.S., featuring a large cast, live animals and pyrotechnics.

  • Boom in the 1980s and 1990s: Branson saw a major boom in live entertainment during the 1980s and 1990s. Many well-known performers, such as Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Roy Clark, opened theaters and brought national attention to Branson.

  • Variety of Shows: Branson offers a diverse range of shows, from country and gospel music to magic acts, acrobatics and Broadway-style productions. This variety ensures there's something for everyone.

  • The Haygoods: This family group has been performing in Branson since the early 1990s. Known for their high-energy shows featuring tight harmonies, impressive instrumentation and dynamic special effects, The Haygoods have become one of Branson's most popular acts.

  • Dolly Parton’s Stampede: Opened in 1988 as Dixie Stampede, this dinner theater attraction features a four-course meal and a spectacular show with horses, trick riders and music, offering a unique blend of entertainment and dining.

  • Branson's Christmas Shows: Branson is known for its festive holiday shows, which start in early November and run through Christmas. These shows feature elaborate decorations, holiday music and special performances, drawing visitors from far and wide.

  • Modern Day Entertainment: Today, Branson boasts over 100 live shows in 50 theaters, with more than 30,000 seats. This makes Branson one of the leading live entertainment destinations in the U.S.

  • Celebrity Performers: Over the years, Branson has hosted a variety of celebrity performers, including Wayne Newton, the Osmond’s, Yakov Smirnoff and Tony Orlando, all of whom have had their own theaters or regular shows in the city.

  • Branson Landing: Opened in 2006, Branson Landing is a modern entertainment district featuring shopping, dining and a spectacular fountain show set to music, lights and fire, adding a contemporary twist to Branson’s entertainment offerings.

Branson Today: A Modern Tourist Haven

Over the years, Branson has transformed into a premier tourist destination. The city is renowned for its family-friendly attractions, live entertainment and beautiful natural surroundings.

The Strip, a bustling stretch of Highway 76, is lined with theaters, museums, amusement parks and restaurants.

The growth of Branson as a tourist hotspot began in the 1960s and 1970s when a few visionaries recognized the potential of the area's natural beauty and cultural heritage.

They began to develop attractions that would draw visitors from across the country. The city's vibrant nightlife and diverse entertainment options ensure that there is something for everyone. Branson nightclubs are popular among locals and tourists alike.

In addition to its theaters, Branson is home to several museums, including the Titanic Museum, which features a half-scale replica of the famous ship and over 400 artifacts from its voyage.

Outdoor enthusiasts will also find plenty to do in Branson as well. The city's location in the Ozark Mountains provides opportunities for hiking, fishing and exploring the great outdoors.

The Branson Scenic Railway offers a 40-mile round trip through the mountains, providing stunning views and a glimpse into the region's rail history.


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Frequently Asked Questions About the History of Branson, Missouri

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.

Branson, Missouri, was officially incorporated as a city on April 1, 1912. However, the area was settled in the 1880s, and the city is named after Reuben S. Branson, who opened a general store and post office in the area in 1882.

Branson became a tourist destination largely due to the publication of Harold Bell Wright's novel "The Shepherd of the Hills" in 1907. The book's portrayal of the Ozark region attracted visitors. The construction of Silver Dollar City in 1960 and the growth of live entertainment in the 1980s and 1990s further cemented Branson's status as a major tourist destination.

"The Shepherd of the Hills" is a novel by Harold Bell Wright that popularized the Ozark region and brought early tourism to Branson. The outdoor drama based on the book has been performed in Branson since 1960 and is one of the longest-running outdoor plays in the United States.

The Baldknobbers Jamboree is Branson’s first live music show, started in 1959 by the Mabe family. The show featured country music and comedy and is considered the cornerstone of Branson's live entertainment industry. It was named after the 19th-century vigilante group known as the Bald Knobbers, who were active in the Ozarks region.

Silver Dollar City is an 1880s-themed amusement park in Branson, Missouri. It opened in 1960 and was built around Marvel Cave, a popular tourist attraction since the late 19th century. The park features rides, shows, and craft demonstrations, attracting millions of visitors each year.

Branson became known for live music starting with the Baldknobbers Jamboree in 1959 and Presley’s Country Jubilee in 1967. The city's reputation grew in the 1980s and 1990s when many well-known performers, such as Andy Williams and Roy Clark, opened theaters in Branson. Today, Branson hosts over 100 live shows in various theaters.

Some famous theaters in Branson include the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, the Clay Cooper Theatre, the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre, the Jim Stafford Theatre and the Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction.

Table Rock Lake is a man-made reservoir created by the construction of Table Rock Dam on the White River, completed in 1958. The lake spans over 43,000 acres and is a popular destination for boating, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities.

The Baldknobbers Jamboree is known for being Branson's first live music show. It features a mix of country music and comedy and has been a staple of Branson's entertainment scene since 1959. The name is derived from a 19th-century vigilante group that operated in the Ozarks.

Branson's entertainment industry experienced significant growth in the 1980s and 1990s when numerous theaters were built along Highway 76. This period saw many national performers, like Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Roy Clark, establishing their own theaters, which attracted large audiences and boosted Branson's reputation as a live entertainment hub.

Branson, MO, Through the Ages

Branson, Missouri, is a city with a rich history, vibrant culture and endless opportunities for fun and entertainment.

Whether you're drawn by its natural beauty, historical sites or world-class live shows, Branson has something for everyone.

From its early days as a small settlement to its current status as a major tourist destination, Branson's story is one of growth, resilience and a deep appreciation for the arts and nature.

For more facts about Branson, travel tips and foodie guides, visit our Westgate Resorts Travel Blog.


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At Westgate Resorts, when you Check-In, there’s a LOT to Check-Out! Your Branson vacation awaits! Explore our Branson resorts today or talk with a vacation planner at 888-852-2959 or 407-355-2690.

* Westgate Resorts is in no way affiliated with the attractions featured in this article. Items or places listed are current as of the publishing date of this article. Please call or visit the respective website for the most up-to-date offerings and details.

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