Former Paramount Pictures chief Michael Eisner had a lot of big ideas when he took over as CEO of the then-foundering Walt Disney Company in 1984. Controversial as he eventually turned out to be, Eisner did initially succeed in reversing the company’s fortunes in the late 1980s and early ’90s. After years of critical and commercial misfires, Disney finally started releasing hit films again, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid. But Eisner wanted to revitalize and expand Disney’s theme parks as well, especially as rivals like Universal Studios Florida began to crop up. In November 1993, not long after the launch of Euro Disney in France, the family entertainment powerhouse announced the construction of an all-new, historically themed park called Disney’s America to be built in Virginia. The project, however, never came to fruition. The reasons behind that are covered in an episode of the informative webseries Abandoned, narrated and co-written by Jake Williams.
The concept behind Disney’s America was to construct a smaller, regional amusement park within driving distance of Washington, D.C. The idea was that families would stay right there in the park for a few days in hotels built atop the stores, and a shuttle bus would take them to and from the nation’s capital. And what would Disney’s America have contained? The park would attempt to replicate America’s past, with different sections featuring various bygone eras. Visitors would enter through a cluster of buildings meant to represent a typical American town of the early 1800s. That may sound charming, but Disney’s America gets a little weird after that: The park would have featured a full-size replica of a Civil War fort, for instance, alongside reenactments of battles from that conflagration. And then there was Victory Field, “a full recreation of a World War II airfield, complete with full-scale war era aircraft and hangars.”
The people of Virginia did not respond kindly to these plans, and they took to the streets to protest. There were environmental and traffic concerns, plus it was felt that Disney’s America would distract from a real Civil War battlefield not far away. Besides, who was Disney to claim ownership of America or its history? With great reluctance, Eisner and Disney eventually gave up on the project. Some of the ideas for rides and attractions were incorporated into other parks, however, including Disney California Adventure. And who knows? The next time Disney buys up a huge chunk of land, it could decide to dust off the old Disney’s America concept. Mickey’s version of the South may well rise again.