The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Best of Branson

June 18, 2012

Museum features 100 years of Branson history

BRANSON Mo. — Ann McDowell understands the challenges Branson has overcome during the last 100 years to become one of the country’s most popular family vacation destinations.

“This was not an easy area to develop,” the chairperson of the Branson Centennial Committee said. “The terrain is rough and rocky. We had a lot of flooding. We had a major fire that took out the whole downtown in 1912. (But,) the people in this region just kept going.”

That hard-rock resilience, she said, continues today.

“They hung in there,” the St. Louis native said. “There’s a tenacity and a toughness to folks in this area that’s made Branson possible today. If they had given up when the town burned down, we probably wouldn’t be here today. That’s inspiring.”

Branson officials, residents and Ozark history buffs began a one-year celebration of the community’s incorporation on April 1. During 2012, Branson’s Centennial Celebration will offer dozens of events and activities marking the community’s impact on the Ozarks, American entertainment and Missouri tourism.

A new centennial museum has opened downtown focusing on the development of the White River, Lake Taneycomo, Table Rock Lake and surrounding area.

Since Harold Bell Wright’s 1907 novel “Shepherd of the Hills” chronicled Ozark life and culture for a national audience, the Branson lakes have lured thousands of anglers and excursionists -- now called tourists -- to Southwest Missouri. Today millions of visitors choose Branson music and comedy shows and outdoors adventures.

“In show business, they say ‘you were an overnight success,’” she said. “People have the perception that Branson just popped up overnight and is only music shows and tour buses.”

With many people, Branson knowledge includes the last 50 of the community’s 100-year history. Many of Branson’s founding shows and attractions such as The Baldknobbers, The Presleys and Silver Dollar City recently marked 50-year celebrations. Many are touchstones for generations of Branson’s repeat visitors.

The centennial committee collaborated with The White River Valley Historical Society to curate exhibits focused on the impact of rivers and lakes in regards to power generation and tourism, Branson’s 1912 fire, founding families, area agriculture, the business of entertainment and local education.

That’s why McDowell and her 30-strong volunteer committee were excited about opening the museum.

“Its not a big place, but its become a hub of activity,” she said. “Folks who have been saving things, or who have photos or books or little items, now have someplace to take them where they will be taken care of and preserved. It’s important to our past and to our future.”

Go to joplinglobe.com to see galleries of historic photographs and learn more about Branson Centennial Celebration events.

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