Story by Richard Carroll
Photographs by Halina Kubalski
Historic Branson, Missouri tucked away in the
Ozarks was named by Ruben S. Branson, Postmaster.
n 1882, innovative Ruben S. Branson and his wife Mary opened a small
general store and post office in a village near the White River, tucked
away in the middle of the impressive Missouri Ozark Mountains. Quite
possibly, an important page of Ozark history was begun while the couple
was sitting near a warm cook stove enjoying hot corn bread prepared
in a sizzling iron skillet, seasoned with bacon grease and topped with
a slab of butter, and it might have taken them no more than two sips
of steaming coffee to settle on the name of their new home.
Astutely, Postmaster Ruben Branson named the community
for himself as "Branson." Later, in 1912, the community was
incorporated as a town with a grand total of 1,200 Bransonians. Today,
Ruben and Mary would be astounded to grasp that the family name, and
once small settlement of homesteaders, loggers, farmers, and those searching
for a better life, is recognized far and wide, and within the spirited
world of performers, Branson is an icon.
Branson Missouri located in the Ozark Mountains.
Notably, the city is not in the Deep South and is a
tad removed from the Midwest, so Branson carefully carved its own path,
the moral fiber of the city being down-home Ozark. Within city limits
are the 130-acre Lakeside Wilderness Area, 16 parks, and the splendid
Lake Taneycomo, while it's just a 30-minute drive southwest to the impressive
10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, laced with trails and raw Ozark
The Branson setting is a glorious location for country
music, gifted fiddlers, and performers from throughout the world who
book in to showcase their talents in one of the largest live-music playgrounds
anywhere. Appropriately tagged the "World's Music Capital,"
the city offers an incredible 100 live music venues ranging from pop
and rock, gospel, blues, and soul, to foot-stomping Louisiana Cajun,
Broadway-style shows, big bands, country, and the celebrity headliners
of today and yesterday.
A popular Branson venue.
Music is simply a lifestyle in this part of Missouri.
Even the café servers will sing a chart or two while dishing
up a plate of okra and mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, and if it's
Sunday a little hand-clapping country gospel will set the mood.
A faded red convertible, top down, license plate reading
"Singin'" with a flat-back German bass taking up the passenger
seat cruises into town, the driver whistling the 12-bar blues, his mutt
dog scrutinizing the territory with a busy nose. It's that kind of place.
With more guitar players than wild flowers, Branson
is a revered gig for musicians, a relaxing city to work, family-oriented,
safe, and Ozark welcoming. Not unlike Switzerland, the city is sparkling
clean. Graffiti and flies have been barred at the border.
Two singers performing at the Starlite Theater in
the heart of Branson.
With a little imagination one can picture Ruben and
Mary strolling along Hwy. 76, known as The Strip, hand-in-hand, enjoying
some Bluegrass, the Texas Tenors, Loretta Lynn, or an unknown performer
with a three-octave country voice, perfect pitch, and blissful blue
eyes, eagerly signing autographs, while looking forward to the short
bus ride to Nashville and stardom.
The Branson musicians and headliners are first rate,
as are the show-room venues. In place of jangling casinos and long-legged
show ladies with fluttering eyelashes, Ozark hospitality features Old
Glory proudly flapping in the breeze, and a special tribute to veterans,
current and past, before every performance.
Singers performing at a Branson venue.
Branson's show business tourism took hold in 1907, drawing
thousands of visitors to the area to experience the Shepherd of the
Hills Outdoor Theater made popular by the block-buster novel of the
same name. Today it's the longest-running outdoor drama in the world.
The family-owned Silver Dollar City theme park, adjacent to Marvel Cave,
first opened in 1960 when it was designed after an old-time Ozark village
complete with a 1880s steam train ride. Over the years it has expanded
to a mammoth award-winning amusement park while still keeping the flavor
of its historical Ozark roots.
The award-winning Silver Dollar City theme park
is designed after an old-time Ozark village. Opened in 1960 mammoth
Silver Dollar City has an 1880s steam train ride and hundreds of other
attractions. This Ozarkian lady is a splendid fiddler.
In 1967, the Presley family, no relation to Elvis, built
Branson's first music theater in the heart of the city on Hwy.76, designed
as an elaborate showcase for their entertaining Presley's Country Jubilee.
The Baldnobbers, as the Mabe brothers called themselves, followed suite
by building a performance theater on Hwy.76 in 1969. Their show, infused
with comedy, dating to 1959, is noted as Branson's longest continuously
Branson, tagged as the "World's Music Capital,"
in 1967 the Presley family built Branson's first music theater in the
heart of the city on Hwy. 76.
But most Bransonians agree that the day the prestigious
60 Minutes television program arrived in 1991 and declared Branson
"The Live Music Capital of the Entire Universe," was the defining
moment that lifted Branson to national prominence, with big name entertainers
quick to leap on the Branson bandwagon with one-way tickets.
Beyond entertainment, the stylish Grand Village is infused
with one-of-a kind shops, singing servers at Mel's Hard Luck Diner,
and a well-earned reputation for celebrating Christmas and the holiday
season year-round. Train buffs can board the Ozark Zephyr at the historic
1906 depot and ride the rails on a 40-mile round-trip tour through the
Ozark foothills while enjoying narrated anecdotes on vintage equipment
including a dome coach.
The historic Branson train station dates to 1906.
Stylish Grand Village celebrates Christmas and the
holiday season year-round
The 1906 train depot isn't Branson's only opportunity
to be immersed in the world of turn-of-the-century travel. There is
also a 1912 Trans-Atlantic cruise to explore. In landlocked Branson,
the huge 221-foot partial replica of the Titanic seems like a fantastical
optical illusion looming skyward on the Strip in the heart of town,
but the top-rated museum is in fact an implicit passage of discovery
with precise historical details. Visitors receive their boarding passes,
feel the chill of the fateful night, walk the elegant Grand Staircase,
see 400 rare historical artifacts, and speak with crew members who relate
touching stories of the doomed voyage.
The 5-star Titantic Museum is ranked among the best
in the United States.
Any "Must See" list should include the Branson
Centennial History Museum, early dinner and a show aboard the spacious
showboat Branson Belle, and a browse through Dick's Old-Time 5 &
10 store, dating to 1929, where kids would love to spend the day lost
in an incredible maze of objects that just have to be touched. For culinary
aficionados, take time for lunch at the Keeter Center on the lovely
College of the Ozarks campus, where cuisine is a work of art.
Another musical venue aboard the spacious showboat
Dick's Old Time 5 & 10 store, 1929, is a step
into the past.
An executive of the impressive Starlite Theater remarked,
"Bring your friends, we'll treat them right, and if they can tap
dance, smile and sing, we'll put them to work."
The Starlite Theater is one of Branson's 100 live
When You Go
Branson-Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors
Tale of Two Cities: St. Louis & Kansas City; Elko's
31st Celebration of The Old West; Three
Things We Didn't Know About St. Louis; St.
Louis and the Ball Park Hotel; Lake
Charles Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras