Visitors started coming to the Branson/Lakes area more than 100 years ago, lured by natural beauty and outdoor recreation activities, however, not in the numbers which makes this area now a “jumping” attraction.
Although the population of Branson, Mo., is less than 7,000, a great many of those needed to “run” Branson call the Mountain areas surrounding the town home.
Branson’s first families of entertainment arrived in 1959, those being the Mabe brothers — Bob, Bill, Lyle and Jim — who performed twice a week in a converted roller skating rink on the Lake Taneycomo waterfront in what was then downtown Branson.
The brothers combined popular country tunes with Ozark Mountain music and also threw in a dash of comedy to entertain audiences.
In 1968, the Bald Knobbers, as the brothers called themselves, built a theater on Highway 76, making their act the longest continuously running show in Branson today.
In 1960, the long-term plans of Hugo and Mary Herchend came to fruition with the opening of a small, old-time Ozark village attraction atop the long-time popular Marvel Cave about 10 miles west of Branson on Highway 76.
Actually, Marvel Cave (located on the property where the current Silver Dollar City theme park is located) was the first attraction to draw visitors to the area more than a century ago.
The early beginnings of this area also found minister Harold Bell Wright relocating to the Ozarks in 1898 on the advice of his doctor who believed it was a more suitable climate for his health than the state of Kansas.
Wright stayed at the homestead of John and Anna Ross, who he later immortalized as the characters Old Matt and Aunt Mollie in his famous novel, “The Shepherd of the Hills.” Published in 1907, the book told the story of the self-reliant and stoic hill people he encountered in the area and the wooded valleys, the mountain “balbs,” and the incredible cave he had seen.
The book’s success was huge. Millions of copies were sold in several languages, and four movies were filmed, including a 1941 version starring John Wayne, in his first Technicolor film. Following the publication of “The Shepherd of the Hills,” local residents began noticing a great influx of visitors.
When Ozark Beach Dam (also called Powersite Dam) was built in 1913 and created Lake Taneycomo, the area also became a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who came to fish, boat, swim, hunt and enjoy the rugged beauty of the Ozark Mountains.
The splendor of fall in the Ozark Mountains can be seen in this photo. The Ozarks hold a multitude of recreational opportunities for those visiting Branson.