Longtime Branson residents and visitors remember the Liberty Tree, a more than 200-year-old bur oak tree along the Branson Landing waterfront. The tree served as a landmark and gathering place throughout much of the city’s first century.
Thanks to the Downtown Branson streetscape project, the historic tree’s memory is preserved in a number of ways. If you look closely, you’ll notice that in many places — such as atop each of downtown’s new street signs — is a Liberty Tree emblem. This icon is now used throughout downtown as a tribute to the oak.
And of course the tree’s name was the chief inspiration for the name of the new Liberty Plaza, which seeks to recapture the legacy of the Liberty Tree as the city’s unofficial gathering place.
The large tree had been a Branson landmark since the city’s settling in the late 1800s, but it received its official name in 1976. During America’s Bicentennial, it was determined that the tree was at least 200 years old, and therefore older than the nation. A ceremony that year placed a plaque at the base of the tree.
Bur oaks, also known as blue oaks, are native slow-growing hardwoods that can reach 100 feet in height. The tree stood for another three decades, despite being struck by lightning in 1996.
As Branson Landing was being built, plans were drawn up to incorporate the historic and popular tree as a focal piece for the new development. However, as construction was underway in 2005 arborists and experts determined that the tree was unsafe as it had become riddled with borers and had been damaged by the 1996 lightning strike. With regret, the city pushed the stately oak over and cut it into sections.
Undamaged portions of the tree were preserved and made into furnishings or displays by local craftsman Rick Braun, several of which can be seen at the Hilton Promenade Hotel, the Taneyhills Library and other sites around town. A cross-section of the tree is also preserved by the White River Valley Historical Society in Forsyth.
A small piece of the Liberty Tree, inlaid with a 2012 silver dollar and 50-cent coin, is sealed inside the Branson centennial time capsule at city hall, to be opened in April 1, 2062 — Branson’s sesquicentennial.
Even though the Liberty Tree is gone from the Branson waterfront, you can still rest and play under the shade of several old-growth oaks like the Liberty Tree in North Beach Park, located at the north end of the Branson Landing parking lot.