n the 1920’s, my grandfather found his way into the rugged Ozark Mountains near a small town named Branson. He came to fish the clear, cold streams and liked his stay so well that he returned, year after year. From then until his death more than a half-century later Pop traveled to the southern edge of the state to relax in the quiet Ozarks.
I was introduced to the Ozarks early. My recollections date me but I remember when there were few businesses along Highway 76 until you came down the hill into what is now known as Historic Downtown Branson. Those winding miles of road seemed like a long way from the simple surroundings of Silver Dollar City. My earliest memories of the park include the long defunct and all but forgotten stagecoach, the Square, and the Frisco Silver Dollar Line.
Creatures of habit, my grandparents always stayed at a small resort on the shores of Lake Taneycomo just below downtown Branson. The small white frame cabins had names like “Keep Cool” and “Live Well.” Each cabin was simple, filled with rustic charm. Granny cooked some of their meals in the tiny kitchenette and they ate the others at the Branson Café, an old time favorite of Pop’s that still serves the same delicious fried chicken I remember.
Lonnie Lee’s Resort is just a memory and the location has vanished beneath the new Branson Landing. On a recent weekend jaunt to Branson with my family, we marveled at the lakeside changes. Although I had viewed drawings of what the Landing would look like, the reality staggered me. The Branson depot is dwarfed by the development and all the familiar places near the railroad tracks have been transformed. Progress is a wondrous thing but I often mourn the loss of what once was. Change makes memories all the more valuable.
That quiet small town where my grandparents sought some R & R exploded into a major vacation destination long ago yet I’m still drawn there. Although the Strip can be clogged with traffic and new time saver routes in various colors offer alternate routes, there is enough of the old left to serve as a base.
Even Silver Dollar City has grown from a quaint Ozarks village with craftsmen and two rides (train and stagecoach) to a major amusement park. My kids delighted in the Grand Exposition, a recent addition that has a number of rides suited for the little ones. We rode the train, too, of course, because it’s another favorite as well as a bridge from past to present.
Branson has grown up, like me, but I still like the place. You can still drive a few miles in any direction and be in the country, away from the bright lights and traffic snarls. Most people are still friendly and it’s just a short drive from Neosho. Sometimes we go for a day; sometimes a weekend and sometimes we spend an entire week. There are still small family owned resorts similar to Lonnie Lee’s and so I give my children the same gift I was given, upgraded for the 21st century – Branson.