By Kathleen Somers
When you think of Branson, you think of showstopping performances, right? Fair enough. But when you think of Silver Dollar City, you should think of one thing: SHOPPING. And not just any ordinary shopping, either. Sure, the words “unique shopping” are ubiquitous in the group travel world, but the shopping in Silver Dollar City is the kind that will leave your group writing home about—that is, if anyone actually wrote home anymore. Let me explain…
First, let’s be clear: Silver Dollar City is not a city. It’s an 1880s theme park credited with putting Branson, Missouri on the map. The award-winning park showcases a colony of 100 resident craftsmen, with rides, attractions, and a showboat, plus world-class festivals thrown in for extra fun. Situated within the natural beauty of the Ozarks—with its rolling hills and Table Rock Lake—Silver Dollar City is a travel destination that is consistently rated a top group tour favorite.
So what exactly is it that makes Silver Dollar City shopping so special? In the words of Pete Herschend, whose parents founded Silver Dollar City, “…it’s the pioneer handicrafts and the men and women who are the crafters.” Many of these artisans live right in the “city,” creating their crafts there, and living a community spirit that made America what it is today. Dressed in costumes reminiscent of a simpler time, the Silver Dollar City specialty of entertainment is advanced as craftsmen and artisans tell stories and spin hilarious tales of the past while demonstrating their creations. Perhaps your groups will reminisce a favorite childhood memory or family story as these things spring to life before their very eyes.
It all started at Marvel Cave, one of the Ozarks’ oldest attractions. A group of miners entered the cave in 1882, hoping to find priceless mineral deposits. Instead of the lead ore they expected, there was nothing but a whole lot of bat guano. Still, it looked to them that there was a wall of marble in the cave, so one of nature’s greatest wonders was named Marble Cave. The mining company cleaned out the guano, but the “marble” turned out to be limestone. They ceased operation by 1889, but not before planning a town—Marble City—to be constructed on the hilltop near the cave’s entrance. A plat map was recorded at the local courthouse in 1884.
When Henry Lynch, a Canadian miner, purchased the cave and some land around it in 1889, his plan was to open the cave to sightseers. With the help of his family, he did just that and operations began in 1894. Not exactly profitable at the start, the cave was closed for a period while Lynch raised more capital. It reopened in 1900 and has remained so since, making it the oldest continuously running tourist attraction in the Ozarks. When Lynch died in 1927, his daughters took over the business and renamed the attraction Marvel Cave.
By the time Hugo and Mary Herschend traveled to the Ozarks with their two sons Jack and Peter in the mid-20th Century, the Lynch sisters were ready to retire. The Herschends fell in love with the beauty of the area and the resourcefulness of her people. Wanting to share that unique heritage and lifestyle, they struck a deal to take over Marvel Cave, a venture continued by Mary and her sons after Hugo’s death. Mary made vast improvements to the cave, including a railway to pull visitors up from the depths of the cave. With a desire to expand, but also wanting to keep things authentic, Mary began construction on that mining town that was never built. The Herschends’ frontier town began as five shops, a church, a log cabin, and a little street drama reproducing the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys—all on land surrounding the cave. The name was inspired by a promotional idea of giving visitors silver dollars in change. Opening May 1, 1960, Silver Dollar City was soon attracting four times more visitors than Marvel Cave. The family realized they were in the theme park business and started charging admission in 1968.
Today, Silver Dollar City craftsmen are creating handcrafted treasures and vacation souvenirs that can be shipped and waiting for your travelers when they return home. You’ll find pottery and cut glass and blown glass and candy and leather and soap and furniture and knives and candles and even a blacksmith. The list is long and all is handmade with love the way grandma used to. Entertaining demonstrations are part of the experience and a reason why motorcoaches love to return again and again.
Silver Dollar City continues to grow today and offers an abundance of shade trees and bench seating in a beautifully landscaped setting. Attractions are all handicap accessible and easy to navigate. Adventures can be had from March through December, so start planning your visit. Special prices are available for group planners and professional tour operators. You won’t be disappointed!
For more information or to book your group’s Silver Dollar City experience, contact Mike Woody at firstname.lastname@example.org.