Silver Dollar City is a theme park in the US state of Missouri. Opened on May 1, 1960, the park is located between Branson and Branson West off of Missouri Route 76 on the Indian Point peninsula of Table Rock Lake. The park is an 1880s-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.
Marvel Cave entrance and rubble pile viewed from within
Silver Dollar City is situated at the site of one of the Ozarks' oldest attractions, Marvel Cave. Henry T. Blow, a lead mining magnate, explored the cave with six miners. They found no lead, but were 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 a group led by T. Hodges Jones and Truman S. Powell entered the cave in hopes of finding lead. Jones and Powell instead found huge amounts of guano and a flat wall which they also believed to be marble. Two years later Jones bought the property and formed the Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company. 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. 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 ceased operation.
In 1889, William Henry Lynch, a Canadian miner and dairyman, purchased the cave and a square mile around it for $10,000 (equivalent to $272,370 in 2017). Lynch, with the aid of his family, proposed to open the cave to sightseers. The Lynches began operation of the sightseeing venture in 1894. 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 and 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's death his wife, Mary, took over the day-to-day operations of the venture. With the aid of her two sons, Jack and Peter, she was able to make vast improvements to the cave, including the inclusion of a narrow gauge funicular 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, so they decided to create another attraction which would bring even more tourists to the cave.
New theme park
Mary, Jack and Pete began building the 1880s Ozark village. Mary wanted authenticity and preservation as well as preserving the natural beauty of the area. 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 name was inspired by Ozark Jubilee script writer and publicist Don Richardson after the promotional idea of giving visitors silver dollars in change. 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 an appearance by Uncle Cyp and Aunt Sap Brasfield. 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 1968, the park started charging admission.
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.
In 1976, the Herschends purchased the Goldrush Junction theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which they renamed Silver Dollar City Tennessee. In 1986, the Herschends partnered with Dolly Parton and renamed the park to Dollywood.
Silver Dollar City expanded its entertainment over the years by adding attractions such as a stage coach ride, a steam engine train, interactive activities and various thrill rides. The park is also home to resident craftsmen who can be seen practicing their craft and exhibiting and selling their work to park visitors.
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, becoming the champion for the third consecutive year.
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.
The park was featured in the book The Man Who Loved Clowns.
Layout, attractions and general information
Silver Dollar City is divided into ten distinct districts.
- Park Entrance
- Main Street
- Homestead Ridge
- Valley Road
- The Grand Exposition
- Wilson's Farm
- Hugo's Hill Street
- Fireman's Landing
- Brown's Candy Factory
- Carrie's Candles
- Duplicating Lathe
- Hazel's Blown & Cut Glass
- Heartland Home Furnishings
- Hillcreek Pottery
- Mountain Leather
- Mountain Outfitter's Knives
- Sullivan's Mill
- 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.
- Birdle's Cabin
- 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".
- FireFall - An eight-story drop tower in the Firemans Landing area.
- Fireman's Flyer - A low flying swing ride for children in the Firemans Landing area.
- 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 Baldknobbers 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.
- Fire Spotter - A family balloon ride in the Firemans Landing area.
- Fire Wagon Frenzy - A magic carpet ride themed around a fire wagon in the Firemans Landing area.
- 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, narrow gauge train ride through the park lasting 20 minutes. In the middle of the ride, guests experience a show where uneducated train robbers try their best to rob the train, but guests are saved just in time by the conductor, who was tricked into searching for "Yankees" or "Indians." 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 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.
- The Giant Barn Swing - a Screamin' Swing that includes two 16 capacity swings on two giant pendulum arms each.
- The Grand Exposition Coaster - A small, 20-foot (6.1 m) roller coaster, with speeds up to 20 miles per hour.
- 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 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 gauge funicular 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 - Added in 2013; the world's second steepest wooden coaster and the only one featuring three inversions.
- PowderKeg - an S&S launched roller coaster which reused the coaster segment portion of Buzz Saw Falls.
- Racing Regatta
- Royal Tea Party
- Swinging Bridge
- The Mighty Galleon
- The Roundabout - Carousel ride themed around dalmatians circling a fire hydrant. Opens in 2015 in the new Firemans Landing area.
- Tom & Huck's River Blast
- Thunderation - an Arrow Dynamics mine train roller coaster; one of the largest and fastest in the world currently in operation.
- Time Traveler - Added in 2018; an Mack Rides spinning launch coaster.
- Up The Ladder - A small drop tower for children. Opened in 2015 in the Firemans Landing area.
- Wilderness Church - an old-time church with a view of the Ozark and Boston Mountains of Arkansas.
- WildFire - a Bolliger & Mabillard sit down looping coaster with five inversions.
- 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:
- Festival of Wonder (April): a spring festival showcasing unusual acts and performances.
- Bluegrass & BBQ Festival (May): a celebration of bluegrass music and BBQ from across the nation.
- Star-Spangled Summer (June - August): 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): a salute to an old time harvest celebration featuring visiting craftsmen.
- An Old Time Christmas (November - December): a traditional holiday Christmas celebration with special shows, foods, and other attractions. In addition, the park is decorated with 6.5 million Christmas lights and a five-story special effects Christmas tree.
Throughout its operation, Silver Dollar City has hosted different festivals that have since been replaced.
- Kid's Fest - replaced by Family Fest.
- Family Fest - replaced by Star-Spangled Summer in 2014.
- World-Fest (April - May): an international event showcasing different cultures and performers from around the world; replaced by Festival of Wonder.
- Cajun Connection
- Horsecreek Band
- Old-Time Story Time
- Pure Heart
- The Homestead Pickers
- Sons of the Silver Dollar
Stages, multipurpose buildings and theaters
- The Gazebo
- Carousel Barn
- Dockside Theater
- 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. During the Christmas season, a nativity play of the Nativity of Jesus is given.
- 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, A Christmas Carol.
- Pickin' Shed
- 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. Previously, the town of Bethlehem was recreated each Christmas season, but has since been moved to the Riverfront Playhouse in order to accommodate a stage production of It's a Wonderful Life.
Former rides and attractions
- Sam's Minin' Shack - closed in 1968 and re-themed as Grandfather's Mansion.
- 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 Imagineers 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 and from the queue line for American Plunge.
- 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. The exit from the attraction led visitors through an artificial cave featuring an infinite mirror illusion and Christmas lights to make it appear that they were walking through a large open space with "stars".
- Waterworks Waterboggan - a flume-type water ride, mostly through a dark tunnel so the sudden turns took riders by surprise.
- Splash Harbor - was located near the bathrooms of Geyser Gulch.
- Geyser Gulch - This was an area built in 1997 with two large buildings for the young at heart. Kids could 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 were also water sprinklers outside the building where children can run through. Geyser Gulch closed on August 3, 2014 to make way for Fireman's Landing.