As we celebrate the July 4 Holiday this year, it seems appropriate to call attention to the canceled theme Park ‘Disney’s America.’
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner was looking to expand Disney theme Parks worldwide. During his time as head of the Walt Disney Company, he oversaw the development and opening of Disney MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios), Animal Kingdom, Disney’s California Adventure, EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris), Tokyo DisneySea, Walt Disney Studios Park (Paris), and Hong Kong Disneyland.
However, there is also another list of Disney Resorts and theme parks that were proposed and never developed. One such project was WestCOT – a theme Park that eventually turned into Disney’s California Adventure. But another major project that never broke ground was a theme Park Resort in Virginia – Disney’s America.
Announced in the early 1990s, the Resort was intended to be built 35 miles from Washington, D.C. The conventional wisdom at the time was that international (and national) travelers visiting Washington would be interested in seeing a theme Park Resort focused on the history and culture of America.
There was also discussion of adding Resort hotels, a shopping and dining district (similar to Downtown Disney or Disney Springs), golf courses, and other recreational activities. Disney had secured about 3,000 acres of land for their project. Although that is significantly less than the size of Disney World, it is more than enough space to build multiple theme parks and hotels. For comparison sake, the Magic Kingdom is 107 acres, EPCOT is 305 acres, Hollywood Studios is 135 acres, and Animal Kingdom is around 500 acres.
Theme Park Plans
The original plans were announced in 1993 and included nine themed lands. Although some of the attractions that would have been featured were clones of existing Disney rides and shows, such as the Hall of Presidents or the American Adventure, many more would have been unique to the new theme Park. It would have had a large lake in the center – similar to EPCOT or Universal Studios and featured the multiple lands surrounding it.
The first themed land would have been this Park’s version of Main Street, U.S.A. Themed around mid-19th century commerce, Crossroads USA would have launched Guests forward into the Park to explore the various lands. It was to have an 1840 train trestle bridge that would have marked the entrance to this territory and supported two antique steam trains that visitors could board for a trip around the Park’s various territories.
To the right of Crossroads USA, Guests would enter this area, themed after various leaders. It would have included heroes from the original colonists to today and celebrated the country’s multiple patriots. This Park area would have also featured The Hall of Presidents attraction.
Next to President’s Square, Disney Guests would have the opportunity to learn about the Native American tribes that lived in America before the European colonization. It would have featured an outside amphitheater and a Lewis and Clark-themed white water rafting adventure – not much different than the Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom or Grizzly River Run at California Adventure. This land would also have a village representing various tribes, such as the Powhatans.
Civil War Fort
Heading towards the back of the theme Park, visiting Guests would come across the Civil War Fort. It would have utilized Disney’s Circle Vision 360 technology to educate and entertain visitors on the daily life of a Civil War Soldier. The area also had a large field that would host Civil War Re-enactments and the fort itself that would house a play and discovery area similar to Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom. It would also be the focal point of a nighttime show on the central lake that would retell the historic confrontation between the Monitor and the Merrimac.
As Guests continued a counterclockwise path, they could come across the Family Farm, a simple area that would have paid homage to the farming industry. Visitors could have seen how crops were harvested, learned how to make homemade ice cream, or milked a cow.
Next up would be the theme Park’s State Fair section. This area would have attempted to recreate a nostalgic American fair with old-time attractions such as a Ferris wheel and wooden roller coaster. It has been rumored that Disney took the plans for this section and inserted it as the Paradise Pier section of Disney California Adventure. This State Fair area would have also featured a baseball field and hosted exhibition games.
This area of the theme Park would have highlighted military advancements and achievements that allowed America to help win World War and World War II. It would have also focused on the Wright Brothers, innovation, and the invention of flight. It would have contained many hangars and possibly offered an attraction similar to Soarin’.
This theme Park area would have been focused on factories and the Industrial Revolution. It would have contained a high-speed roller coaster that took riders in and out of a steel mill.
We the People
This final section of the Park would have recreated Ellis Island. It would have featured exhibits and entertainment celebrating the melting pot that is the United States of America. The themed land was intended to focus on the courage and triumph of our immigrant heritage – from the earliest native settlers to the latest political refugees.
There were multiple reasons why this theme Park was never fully realized. One was local pushback from residents in the area and U.S. historians. There was the concern that the massive Resort would impact the environment, potentially cause damage to nearby Civil War sights, increase traffic congestion and pollution, and not accurately or respectfully handle the topic of American history. Michael Eisner and Disney pushed back on many of these concerns and attempted to win over the public and local politicians. But when EuroDisney fell on hard times in Paris, the Walt Disney Company decided to give up their pursuit of building an entirely new theme Park Resort in America.
Instead, Disney decided to redirect their efforts and expand Walt Disney World. This helped propel the company to build Animal Kingdom in 1998. Disney also implemented some of the concepts from Disney’s America into the new California Adventure Park when they developed it a few years later.
So in some ways, Disney’s America still lives on…
But it will probably be another few decades before Disney attempts anything as ambitious as a third theme Park Resort in the United States.