Silver Dollar City
Visitors continued to flock to this attraction located just outside the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains. For a single season in 1976, Goldrush Junction was known simply as Goldrush. In 1977, the park would undergo yet another name change as well as a change in ownership. Jack and Pete Herschend of the Branson-based Herschend Enterprises purchased Goldrush, and it would now be known as Silver Dollar City, Tennessee.
The Herschend Family wasn't new to the attractions industry. Jack and Pete were born to Danish immigrant Hugo Herschend and his Chicago-born wife Mary. Together, the family had often traveled to Marvel Cave-Missouri's deepest-which had been opened to tourists in 1894 by the Lynch Family. In 1950, the Herschend Family entered into an agreement to lease Marvel Cave from the Lynch Family. They quickly cemented their commitment to expand the area with an early 1950s purchase of 640 acres around the cave. Hugo and Mary continued with plans to transform Marvel Cave into a major tourist attraction. Although Hugo passed away in 1955, Mary, Jack and Pete moved forward and began work on a cave train project. In 1958, their hard work was rewarded with the inaugural run of the world's only underground passenger cable train at the time.
On May 1, 1960, what had previously been known as Marvel Cave now marked its opening day as Silver Dollar City in Branson. The themed park featured five frontier-style buildings-a blacksmith shop, general store, ice cream parlor, doll shop, the Stage Coach Inn-as well as two reconstructed log buildings, the Wilderness Church and the McHaffie Homestead. Local entertainers played hillbilly music while the "Hatfields and McCoys" revived their legendary feud on Main Street. Employees costumed in 1880s attire became the "citizens" of Silver Dollar City. As for the theme park's name, it traces its origin to the 1960s when folks paid for everything in cash. The Herschends were encouraged to use silver dollars as change for transactions in the park. Thus, when vacationers spent the coins elsewhere and were asked where they had gotten the coins, they would reply "Silver Dollar City." The Herschends took the advice, appropriately coining the phrase "Silver Dollar City."
With Silver Dollar City, Branson up and running, the Herschend Corporation expanded into other themed entertainment ventures including White Water water parks; the Showboat Branson Belle, an exquisite paddle boat featuring dinner and entertainment; and the Grand Village shopping complex in Branson.
The Herschend Family was the proud owner of a winning concept. They captured the very heart and soul of the late-1800s Appalachian mountain people and their communities while also preserving the history and traditions of the area. With the success of Silver Dollar City, Branson well in hand, the Herschend Brothers looked eastward to their next endeavor.
Upon acquiring Goldrush in 1977, the Herschend Brothers contributed more than a million dollars in improvements on the way to opening Silver Dollar City, Tennessee in Pigeon Forge. Intent upon showcasing the craftsmanship of the Smoky Mountain region, guests entered near the park's train trestle, passed under the train tracks and entered Craftsman's Valley. The area was filled with talented artisans including blacksmiths, wood carvers, leather smiths and lye soap makers who showcased their crafts while demonstrating their trades. The park experienced significant growth over the next decade of operation including the addition of rides, shops, more craftsmen, shows and attractions like the Silver Dollar Grist Mill which was completed in 1983 and became the first working grist mill built in Tennessee in more than 100 years. The Herschend Brothers never compromised their commitment to the preservation of the Great Smoky Mountains' heritage and traditions.