Silver Dollar City is a theme park in the state of Missouri. Opened on May 1, 1960, the park is located between Branson and Branson West on Missouri Route 76. The park is an 1880's-themed experience that fits Branson's vision as a family-friendly vacation destination with down-home charm. Silver Dollar City's operating season runs from mid-March until late December, with the park closed during the months of January and February. Silver Dollar City is owned by the Herschend Family Entertainment, which owns, operates or partners in 25 properties in 10 states and includes the nearby water park, White Water; water excursion and theatre, the Showboat Branson Belle; water and land tour attraction Ride the Ducks.
Marvel Cave entrance and rubble pile viewed from within
Silver Dollar City has developed into one of the most successful theme parks in the United States. Situated at the site of one of the Ozarks' oldest attractions, Marvel Cave, Silver Dollar City figuratively sprang from the ground. The cave, which has been designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is important not only because of its subterranean features but also because of its role in the origins of Silver Dollar City.
The first oral record of Marvel Cave comes from the Osage Nation, while the first written record dates from an 1869 expedition. Henry T. Blow of St. Louis, a lead mining magnate, explored the cave with six miners. They found no lead before returning to St. Louis, but convinced that the flat ceiling of one room was composed of marble, they originally named the cave Marble Cave.
The cave remained undisturbed until 1882 when another group of entrepreneurs, led by Mr. T. Hodges Jones and Truman S. Powell of Barton County, entered the cave in hopes of finding lead. Jones and Powell found huge amounts of bat manure, or guano, and the flat wall, which they also believed to be marble. Two years later Jones bought the property and, with several of his friends, formed the Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company to mine the cave. The company planned a town, Marble City, on the rough hilltop near the cave and in 1884 recorded a plat map at the courthouse in Galena, Missouri. Although a few lots in the new town were sold, little development seems to have taken place. By 1889 much of the guano had been mined from the cave, the marble wall proved to be limestone, and no lead ore was found. The mining company, which had developed so quickly, ceased operation.
The history of the cave took another turn in 1889 when William Henry Lynch, a Canadian miner and dairyman, purchased the cave and a square mile around it for $10,000. Lynch, with the aid of his family, proposed to open the cave to sightseers. The Lynches began operation of the sightseeing venture in 1894 with a grand celebration and a few visitors. The venture was not immediately profitable and was closed until Lynch raised additional capital to reopen the cave sometime after 1900. The cave has remained open since, making it one of the oldest continuously running tourist attractions in the Ozarks.
When William Lynch died in 1927, ownership of the cave passed to his daughters. Shortly thereafter, the name of the cave was changed to Marvel Cave. The Lynch family operated the cave for nearly fifty years until a Chicago vacuum cleaner salesman, Hugo Herschend, purchased a 100-year lease on the cave.
After Hugo Herschend's death, five years after he began managing the cave, his wife, Mary, took over the day-to-day operations of the venture. With the aid of her two sons, Jack and Peter, Mary Herschend was able to make vast improvements to the cave, including a narrow gaugefunicular railway, whose trains pulled visitors a distance of 218 feet (66 m), from the depths of the cave up to the surface.
Once the railway was in operation the Herschends felt the development of the cave was complete and immediately began to search for ways to expand their growing attraction. Anticipating additional tourists to the Ozarks, they wanted to create an attraction which would attract even more tourists to the cave.
New theme park
Following Hugo's death in 1955, Mary, Jack and Pete began building the 1880s Ozark village. Mary was committed to authenticity and preservation—there would be no cheap storefronts. She also insisted on preserving the natural beauty of the area, particularly the trees. The Herschends built the Ozark frontier town on the land surrounding the site of the cave. Silver Dollar City originally was the site of five shops, a church, a log cabin, and a street production reproducing the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys several times daily.
The new attraction was named by Ozark Jubilee script writer and publicist Don Richardson after the promotional idea of giving visitors silver dollars in change (he was hired as the park's public relations director after the show ended). The scenic designer for much of the original attraction was Andy Miller, who had been the set designer for the Jubilee in nearby Springfield. Opening day, May 1, 1960, included appearances by Uncle Cyp and Aunt Sap Brasfield and announcer Joe Slattery from the Jubilee, three Springfield TV personalities, and 18,000 visitors. The first year, Silver Dollar City drew more than 125,000 people, four times more visitors than the number that toured Marvel Cave. "We discovered we were in the theme park business," Pete Herschend said.
In 1972 Genevieve Lynch, the last of William Lynch's daughters, died and she bequeathed the land under Silver Dollar City and Marvel Cave to the College of the Ozarks and Branson Presbyterian Church. The Herschends continue to operate it.
The park gained much public notice when the Clampett family of CBS-TV's The Beverly Hillbillies decided to pay a visit to Silver Dollar City (treated as an actual town, rather than a theme park) to start off the 1969-1970 season. The plotline involved Granny (Irene Ryan) attempting to find a husband for Elly May (Donna Douglas) back in the hills, while Jed (Buddy Ebsen) socialized with hotel clerk Shorty Kellems (Shug Fisher). They visited the blacksmith Shad Heller, soapmaker Granny Ethel Huffman, and woodcarver Peter Engler, and Miss Hathaway (Nancy Kulp) was seen in the Ozark woods. The Hillbillies were from the area surrounding Silver Dollar City and Branson, and references to Jim Owens and his White River float trip business and some Missouri mountain locations were made throughout the show's nine-year run. Five episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies were eventually shot in the park.
In 1999, Silver Dollar City was the site for the 14th annual Stihl Timbersports Series Championships. Jason Wynyard, 26 of Auckland, New Zealand topped the field of 12 of the world's best axemen for the third year in a row. Four thousand spectators were on hand at the Echo Hollow Amphitheater to watch the most recognized logging competition worldwide. It was the fourth year that the Stihl Finals were hosted in Branson. "Timber" Tina Scheer of The Great Maine Lumberjack Show was the host.
On December 5, 2007 ABC's Good Morning America spotlighted the park’s Christmas festival, “An Old Time Christmas,” and declared it as one of the top five holiday events in the country. The park was featured as part of the show’s segment called “Good Morning America Lights Up the Holidays.”
On July 5, 2007, Silver Dollar City was featured in an episode of the soap opera As The World Turns.
From June 21–23, 2009, the park hosted the American Coaster Enthusiasts' national summer convention, welcoming coaster enthusiasts from around the country and Canada.
Silver Dollar City is divided into nine distinct districts.
The Grand Exposition
Hugo’s Hill Street
Brown's Candy Factory
Hazel's Blown & Cut Glass
Heartland Home Furnishings
Mountain Outfitter's Knives
Valley Road Woodcarvers
Wilderness Road Blacksmith
Rides and attractions
American Plunge - Riders experience a 50-foot (15 m) drop at speeds of 35 miles (56 km) per hour. Riders sit down in a wet boat and straddle the seat, while using footrests and keeping a tight grip on the bars on the side.
Electro Spin - Riders sit facing outward with chests against a padded panel while riding a rotational vehicle the spins at high speeds on a 50-foot (15 m) U-shaped track.
Elephant March - Riders sit in an elephant-shaped vehicle that revolves around a central machine. The vehicles also ascend and descend at the press of a button, which is controlled by the rider.
Elsie the Milk Cow - A fake cow with udders that allows guests to pull and retrieve their own "milk".
Fire-in-the-Hole - The park's first, and oldest, roller coaster. Guests ride in a dark building with scenes that tell of a town set ablaze by the Bald Knobbers overnight. Riders then are shifted quickly to avoid trains, fires, and broken bridges. The ride is notable for being the site of the park's only fatality to date.
Flooded Mine - Guests ride in a dark building that resembles an old broken down mine. The prisoners of the mine have escaped during a flood, and the warden needs the guests' help in shooting them down. Guests have laser powered guns that count how many times they hit specified targets.
Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train - Guests experience a slow-moving, 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge train ride through the park. In the middle of the ride, guests experience a show where uneducated train robbers try their best to get on the train, but guests are saved just in time by the conductor, who was tricked into searching for "Yankees". During the Old Time Christmas festival, the train is decked-out in lights and becomes the Frisco Sing-Along Steam Train. Also, the train robber act is replaced by Grandpa telling the Christmas story. The attraction uses three 600 mm (1 ft 115⁄8 in) narrow gauge steam locomotives, two numbered 13 and 43 built by Orenstein & Koppel in Germany in 1934 and 1938, and one numbered 76 built in 1940 by Kolben-Danek in Czechoslovakia. This is one of the oldest attractions in the park.
Geyser Gulch - Two large buildings for the young at heart. Kids run throughout the building located by the "lake" and shoot each other with water guns, while dodging balls being thrown by other kids or through tubes. There are also water sprinklers outside the building where children can run through. Silver Dollar City announced on July 21 that Geyser Gulch will be closing on August 3, 2014.
Grandfather's Mansion - Guests walk through a large fun house.
Half Dollar Holler - a kids' play and ride area.
Happy Frogs - Riders sit in a frog-shaped vehicle that revolves around a central machine. The vehicles also bounce up and down from a combined mechanical/airbag system.
High-Low Silos - Guests sit with a companion and pull themselves up a 20-foot (6.1 m) cable and drop at low speeds as soon as they let go.
Homestead Animal Barnyard - A petting zoo with animals such as goats, chickens, hens, and other farm animals.
The Ladybugs - Riders sit in a bug-shaped vehicle that revolves around a central machine. The vehicles also ascend and descend at the press of a button, which is controlled by the rider.
Lost River of the Ozarks - a wet and wild whitewater rapids tube ride.
Magnificent Wave Carousel
Marvel Cave - The cave offers two types of tours. The Traditional Cave Tour is a one-hour guided tour through a half mile of lighted passageway. Throughout the tour, geological and historical information is explained. The Lantern Light Tour is a one and a half-hour guided tour through a little over a half mile of unlit passageway. A narrow gaugefunicular railway is employed to take visitors from the far end of the cave back to surface level.
McHaffie's Homestead - a real, hewn-log cabin built in 1843.
Oak Trail School - a 19th-century school house where everyone is invited to pick a desk, sit down and learn about school in the 1800s.
Outlaw Run - The world's steepest wooden coaster and the only one featuring three inversions.
PowderKeg - riders experience a 0 to 60 mile per hour "blastoff" in just 2.8 seconds.
Royal Tea Party
The Mighty Galleon
Tom & Huck's River Blast
Thunderation - an 81-foot-tall roller coaster that takes its riders through the treetops on a runaway mine train.
Wilderness Church - an old-time church with a view of the Ozark and Boston Mountains of Arkansas.
WildFire - a high-flying, multi-looping, cobra-rolling roller coaster.
Wings of Wonder - caterpillar and butterfly vehicles rotate around a central mast, and ascend and descend at the press of a button, which is controlled by the rider.
Throughout the operating season Silver Dollar City hosts six different festivals:
World-Fest (April - May): An international event showcasing different cultures and performers from around the world.
Bluegrass & BBQ Festival (May): Is a celebration of bluegrass music and BBQ from across the nation.
Star-Spangled Summer (June - August): Is a summer festival featuring shows and activities that appeal to families with children.
Southern Gospel Picnic (August - September): Gospel music is showcased during this festival along with picnic style dinners.
National Harvest & Cowboy Festival (September - October): Is a salute to an old time harvest celebration featuring visiting craftsmen.
An Old Time Christmas (November - December): Is a traditional holiday Christmas Celebration with special shows, foods, and other attractions. In addition, the park is decorated with nearly 5 million Christmas lights and a five-story special effects Christmas tree.
Old-Time Story Time
The Homestead Pickers
Sons of the Silver Dollar
Stages, multipurpose buildings and theaters
Riverfront Playhouse - The “Deep Woods” area increased the park's size by 25%. The district eventually introduced the 600 seat Court House Theatre in 1979. The inaugural production was The Chicken Thief, a comedy depicting the trial of a strange man named Melvin. The theatre’s name has changed over the years from Courthouse to Gaslight and on to its current name. Past shows have included Timothy Turnbuckle’s Traveling Time Machine,Hoedown, and Hatfield’s Haint.
The Frisco Barn
McHaffie's Homestead Front Porch
Silver Dollar Saloon - The saloon opened to the public in 1973 with can-can dancers and singing bartenders. Carry Nation brought her temperance union to the City to shut the house of ill repute down for good. Unfortunately for Ms. Nation, she didn't succeed. The show has changed throughout the years to include Mean Murphy, the saloon’s arch enemy; Miss Tilly, the loveable yet dim-witted dance hall girl; and Choctaw Charlie and his Wild West show. The show is billed as “Good clean fun.” There is no cursing, chewing or spitting at the Silver Dollar and root beer is served as an alternative to beer.
Echo Hollow Amphitheatre is an amphitheatre with seating for 4,000. The amphitheater opened in 1983 as a dinner theatre encouraging guests to stay once Silver Dollar City closed for the day. Featured shows within the amphitheater have included Harmonies from the Hollow,Echo Hollow Jubilee,Hotrods and Hair-dos, and GAC Country Nights. Each spring Silver Dollar City’s Young Christian Youth Rally is held at Echo Hollow. This Rally features ministers, speakers and musical guests like Newsboys, Kutless and Sixpence None the Richer. The amphitheater also hosts nationally known musical artists such as, Gladys Knight, Peter, Paul and Mary, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Ricky Skaggs.
The Boatworks Theater
The Opera House - The 1,000 seat performance venue opened in 1994 with the Broadway-style production Listen to the River. Since its opening the theatre has played host to other large scale in-house productions including American Spirit,, a patriotic musical; For the Glory, a Civil War drama; Headin’ West, a musical drama about Western expansion; and A Dickens’ Christmas Carol, a high-energy, musical telling of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic.
Red Gold Heritage Hall - To commemorate Silver Dollar Citys’s 40th anniversary this 25,000-square-foot (2,300 m2) multipurpose building opened in 2000. Themed after a turn-of-the-century tomato canning factory, the hall is capable of hosting exhibitions and shows with seating up to 1,800 guests. Festival food fills the building during events and the town of Bethlehem is recreated each Christmas season.
Buzz Saw Falls - This was a roller coaster that incorporated a water type boat for the vehicle. The ride was largely promoted, however it was constantly plagued with mechanical difficulties. It was closed in 2003 and construction began to modify the ride into Powder Keg, which opened in 2005.
Rube Dugan's Diving Bell - This was an attraction that simulated a Jules Verne-style fantasy submarine ride, the first simulation ride of its kind. Disney World engineers told Silver Dollar City that it would be hard to do but secretly advised them on how to create the attraction. It was removed in the mid-1980s to make room for the Lost River of the Ozarks, a ride that could run more people through per hour. Slim Pickens was the voice of Rube Dugan. 
Jim Owens Float Trip - This was an outdoor boat ride (1969 to 1980) around a man-made river with animatronics. Silver Dollar City removed this ride after the 1980 season and remodeled it into the American Plunge log flume. However, the original channels still exist and can be seen as guests make their way to Wildfire.
Stagecoach - In the early years of the park, an authentic stagecoach took guests on a bumpy ride around the perimeter of the town square pulled by sturdy draft horses. It was removed five years after the park opened.
Runaway Ore Cart - This was a small children's roller coaster that was removed after the 2004 season.
Tom Sawyer's Landing - Added to the park in 1984, this play area featured rope towers and rides with Becky's Carousel as its center piece. Silver Dollar City's craftsmen hand carved each horse on the carousel. The most notable aspect of the structure were the large rope nets upon which visitors bounced and climbed.
Huck Finn's Hideaway - This was a large play house built several stories above the ground on stilts. Visitors entered the attraction via a tiny spiral staircase built into a fake hollow tree. They had to crawl on hands and knees across a narrow bridge from the top of the hollow tree to the tree house.