This page has been left up for historical purposes.
History of Silver Dollar CitySilver 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 and most enduring attractions, Marvel Cave, Silver Dollar City literally sprang from the ground. The cave, which has been designated a National Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is important not only because of its subterranean features, but also because the origins of Silver Dollar City are tied to its development.
The first oral record of Marvel Cave comes from the Osage Indians. The first written record was noted during an 1869 expedition. Henry T. Blow of St. Louis, a lead mining magnate, led a party of six miners into the cave. They found no lead before returning to St. Louis, but convinced that the flat wall 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 as it was called, and the flat wall, which they, too, 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. 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 lime stone, 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 could raise additional capital to reopen the cave sometime after 1900. The cave has remained open since then, 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 there after, the name of the cave was changed to Marvel Cave. The Lynche family operated the cave for nearly fifty years until a Chicago vacuum cleaner salesman, Hugo Herschend, purchased a 99 year lease on the cave.
After Hugo Herschend's death, five years after he began managing the cave, his wife, Mary Herschend, took over the day to day operations of the venture. With the aid of her two sons, Jack and Peter Herschend, Mary Herschend was able to implement vast improvements to the cave, including a train which pulled visitors 218 feet, from the depths of the cave up to the surface.
Once the train 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.
The Herschends decided to build an Ozark frontier town on the acreage surrounding the sight of the cave. The new attraction was named Silver Dollar City. Silver Dollar City originally was the sight of five shops, a church, a log cabin, and a street production reproducing the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys several times daily. With the growing numbers of tourists visiting the attraction each year, the Herschends were able to add many new shops, as well as, rides and variety shows. Today Silver Dollar City plays hosts to thousands of visitors each day during the tourist season.
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