Branson, Missouri — Historical Museums

Branson Centennial Museum Ralph Foster Museum Rose O’Neil Homestead Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery

BRANSON CENTENNIAL MUSEUM

Branson, Missouri, known as the “family vacation destination,” boasts entertainment museums, theme amusement parks and over 100 live shows. But you would be remiss if you overlooked the historical venues that this small Ozark town and surroundings has to offer. Before arriving July 2019, the only thing I knew about the Ozarks is what I saw on TV — The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and the like. Turns out, the guy who wrote these TV shows did live right here and you can learn more at the Ralph Foster Museum.

Here are highlights and photos of four places where you can soak up the quaintness and the history of the Ozarks and two of them are free to the public. 

BRANSON CENTENNIAL MUSEUM

Your first stop might be the Branson Centennial Museum in historical Branson just across from Liberty Plaza. The Centennial Museum is free to visitors and includes rotating exhibits and a movie room with a video on the history of the area on a continual loop. There is also an opportunity to purchase a book or souvenir in their small gift shop or just leave a donation. This museum is run by the White River Valley Historical Society. I spent a bit of time reading the information on a number of exhibits and then watching the video for about 30 minutes but still didn’t see everything and would love to go back one more time while I’m here.

Memorial to a very old tree that was cut down to build Branson Landing
Several of the many rotating exhibits

RALPH FOSTER MUSEUM AND KEETER CENTER

Next stop might be the Ralph Foster Museum on the grounds of the College of the Ozarks. College of the Ozarks is a private Christian college so you must abide by their rules while on campus. Maybe don’t hold hands if you are a same-sex couple. Otherwise they have a lot going for them. Both the museum and the nearby Keeter Center Restaurant are run by students who work their way through school. The philosophy of the college is that graduates will be debt free, which I totally agree with. 

Admission to the museum is $8.00 (discount for seniors and military) and plan to stay at least two hours as you take in all that the three stories of exhibits have to offer. Many of the displays showcase local arts and crafts, historical entertainers, and the Native-Americans who lived here but there are also dioramas featuring natural history with taxidermied animals of the world and collections of antiques and furniture that were donated.

Collections include delicate pottery items all the way to massive pieces of hand built furniture
One floor is dedicated to taxidermy with animals from around the world
The inventor of the Kewpie Doll lived near Branson.
Keeter Center with hotel, several shops, and a fine dining restaurant. There is no fee to visit the Keeter Center.

ROSE O’NEIL HOMESTEAD — ART GALLERY AND MUSEUM

I discovered a previously unknown-to-me local artist when watching the video at the historical society and made plans with another traveler to visit her homestead, only 10 miles from the RV Park I’m staying at in Hollister. You have probably seen some of Rose O’Neil‘s artwork and not even realized who the artist was. She began producing drawings for stories and advertising pieces of art in the early 1900s and was very popular for 40 years, in magazines such as Harper’s, Cosmopolitan, and Colliers. When she first began, she was told to only sign her last name on her artwork as she wouldn’t be accepted if readers knew she was a woman. She invented the Kewpie Doll, which first appeared in stories in 1909 with production of dolls beginning in 1912. Rose was also a gifted artist, sculptor, author, and activist, producing several posters supporting the Suffragette movement.

The Bonniebrook homestead features a nicely stocked gift shop, an art gallery, extensive gardens, and a tour of the artist colony three-story family home that she lived in until her death in 1944. The guided tour is $8.00 for adults and the entire operation is run by volunteers. Allow about 90 minutes or more for the guided tour. Well worth the admission fee.

Plenty of parking for RVs or cars.

The garden shed at the entrance from the parking lot
Art gallery and museum
Her work captured on a print
Bonniebrook Homestead

SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS FISH HATCHERY

Originally, I went here for the hiking trails with my dogs. But I discovered that the visitor’s center and fish nursery is free and was very educational. The SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS FISH HATCHERY is only 8 miles from downtown Branson. While visiting, you can hike several miles of trails along the lake, go fly fishing, visit and feed the fish in the trout-rearing ponds, and tour the center. The Conservation Center features a video, ranger talks, exhibits, and a large aquarium of native fish. There are also brochures, maps, and books available.

The fish hatchery was constructed in the late 1950s following construction of the Table Rock Dam. Completion of the dam created a colder water environment when Lake Taneycomo was formed, making it ideal for trout. The hatchery produces about 400,000 pounds of trout per year.

I enjoyed the hiking trails with my dogs but they weren’t allowed in the Conservation Center. Plenty of parking for RVs or cars.

Popular place for fly fishermen
The guided tour includes the outside fish “beds.”
The Conservation Center has exhibits, items to purchase, and a very large aquarium.

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