Type: Theme Park
Designed for: Haymarket, Virginia
Years Designed: Early 1990s
Article written by
Disney’s America was a theme park based on American History which was set to
be built in the 1990s.
The first location considered for this enterprise was Colonial Williamsburg,
but due to the area only reporting seasonal business (and the two hour
driving distance from Washington D.C., where the parks major clientele were
expected to travel from) this never materialized.
The second location considered for Disney’s America was Haymarket, Virginia,
only twenty miles from the Capital. From 1993, the project was overseen by
Mark Pacala, better known for setting up the Disney Vacation Club, and
designed by Bob Weis (currently the creative lead for the forthcoming
At the official announcement in Haymarket, Weis unveiled a scale model of
the preliminary plans for the park. This featured seven themed areas:
Presidents Square, recreations of a Native American Village, a Civil War
fort, Ellis Island, a turn-of-the-century factory town, a state fair and a
Midwestern family farm.
Other areas, which were later added to the plans, included Cross Roads USA,
which would be at the hub of the park, and Victory Field in which Guests
would have experienced what American Soldiers faced during the World Wars.
Park attractions would have included The Hall of Presidents (which would
have been moved from Walt Disney World, rather than recreated), a film
featuring the Muppets telling the story of Immigration and a rollercoaster
ride called Industrial Revolution which would travel through a nineteenth
century landscape, featuring inversions and near misses with blast furnaces.
Construction of the park was called off for a variety of reasons, which were
public, personal or financial. Public reasons included opposition by locals
and historians. The reasons for the resistance was varied, including the
park’s name implying that the Nation was owned by the Corporation and the
fear of local historical sites (such as Manassas, the location of the two
major battles of the American Civil War) being threatened or undermined by
their proximity to Disney’s America. More generic worries included important
events from history being forgotten, glossed over or not taken seriously
Personal reasons which Michael Eisner (then Disney’s CEO) cited for not
going ahead with the project included the death of Frank Wells (then
Disney’s Chief Operating Officer), the resignation of Jeffrey Katzenberg
(formerly head of Disney’s motion picture divisions) and Eisner’s own
emergency quadruple bypass surgery. These three events had occurred within a
space of five months, and Eisner felt “it wasn’t fair to subject the company
to more trauma”.
Financial reasons for the park not going ahead included unanticipated large
amounts being spent to silence the critics (including on attorneys and
lobbyists), a delayed opening date deferring the date when money would be
coming back into the company from the park and the realisation that the park
would have to close for four months annually rather than the expected three.
The strengthening of the vision for the park brought costs up an additional
40%, whilst projections for the parks revenues –based on a lower than usual
attendance in the other Disney parks worldwide- were decreasing steadily.
Several attractions proposed for the park have influences readily seen in
other Disney parks. For example, a proposed Lewis and Clark themed water
ride led the way for Kali River Rapids at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and later
Grizzly River Run at Disney’s California Adventure (DCA).
Likewise, the design for Victory Field inspired Condor Flats at DCA and the
proposed Family Farm was practically identical to DCA’s former Bountiful
In 1995, Disney’s America was briefly mentioned at a three-day brainstorming
retreat in Colorado as one of six proposed suggestions for a new park where
DCA currently stands.
The final location considered for Disney’s America was Buena Park, a
neighbor to Disneyland. In 1997, the Knott’s Family announced they would be
taking bids for their theme park Knott’s Berry Farm. If Disney’s plan had
gone ahead, they would have transformed their entrance area into President’s
Square (incorporating The Hall of Presidents) and would have adapted the
iconic Bigfoot Rapids into the Lewis and Clark themed water ride.
This plan did not go ahead due to Disney realizing they would be expected to
transport the park’s Guests to Disneyland, and Knott’s Berry Farm’s concern
that Disney would change the park so it would no longer fit in with the
ideals of Walter Knott who had died 16 years previously. In the end, Knott’s
Berry Farm was sold to Cedar’s Fair (owners of Dorney Park & Wildwater
Kingdom in Pennsylvania and Worlds of Fun in Missouri) who altered the park
far more than Disney had proposed.
Hugh is an ex-Cast Member of Disneyland Paris. He lives in London, where
he adapts The Jungle Book into ten minute radio plays for Wireless Theatre
Kids and writes regular columns for DLDHistory.com. See www.hughallison.com