WDW Chronicles: Year One - Liberty Square 1971

Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the September 20, 2011 Issue #626 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Liberty Square is unique to Walt Disney World. It exists in no other Disney theme park worldwide and was inspired by plans that Walt Disney himself had for an expansion of Disneyland.

Walt Disney had a huge fascination with the history surrounding the creation of the United States. As early as 1957, Walt Disney had plans for a street named Liberty Street that would run parallel to Main Street and end in a cul de sac. Cobblestones would pave the way down Liberty Street and into Liberty Square, which would be a celebration of Revolutionary War America. All the shops and exhibits would represent the types of enterprises that might be found in Colonial America.

One of the major attractions in this land would be "One Nation Under God", a 27-minute show that later developed into the Hall of Presidents of the United States show. Surrounded by a Circa-rama screen projecting paintings of significant episodes in U.S. history up to a Civil War climax, the audience would hear off-screen narration of the trials, decisions and formation of the United States, including excerpts from presidential speeches. At the conclusion, figures of all the nation's presidents (34 by 1957 when planning started) accompanied by limited movement and dramatic lighting would be seen on the enormous stage against a rear-projected image of the United States Capitol, as clouds panned across the sky forming an American flag and a musical finale closed the show

The show was on and off at various times in the Studio, but when it came time to really firm it up for Florida, when I dug out the original script, it dated back to 1961. And the Hall of Presidents was very much Walt's baby. He had this great desire to present to an audience all of the Presidents of the United States on stage at once. He read into that single idea a feeling that it would have "great impact and great audience interest and fascination, and, in truth, it does," said James Algar, who wrote the original script for the attraction.

With the creation of Walt Disney World, the Disney Imagineers decided to make Walt's dream become a reality and use the new land as a preface to the story of Frontierland that recounted the expansion of America. The decision to build this new land was also reinforced by the fact that America's Bicentennial was just a few years away.When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, Liberty Square proved to be the most popular area of the new Magic Kingdom.

One of the most remarkable things about Liberty Square is that it is probably the one land at the Magic Kingdom that has had the fewest significant changes over the last 40 years. Other than some cosmetic changes, a guest visiting Liberty Square today would experience much the same as a guest in 1971.

One of the things that changed over the years was the entrance to Liberty Square from the Hub. In 1971, the Court of Flags representing the original 13 states led guests to the old Concord Bridge, where the colonial forces faced off with the British in 1775. In 1991, those flags were relocated to surround the Liberty Bell that had been installed in 1989. The entrance to the land was rebuilt with the brick walls, plaque and guardhouse that are familiar today. Stanchions now fill the holes where the flagpoles once stood.

The bridge led to a public square that would still seem somewhat similar to guests visiting the park today. The double-stacked Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat leisurely plied the Rivers of America starting on October 2, 1971. It would be joined by the single stack Richard Irvine Riverboat in 1973 that is now called the Liberty Belle. Irvine was the WED Imagineer who was in charge of the attractions, while Fowler was in charge of supervising construction inside the park.

The Haunted Mansion was actually installed and fully operational by April 1971, nearly five months before the opening of the park, thanks to the audio-animatronics and scenes being constructed at the same time as the ones for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, which opened in 1969. However, there was no canopy over the queue line so guests could clearly see Imagineer Claude Coats design work with the coffin imagery near the front door, and the fact that those are not flower pots in front but cremation urns.

While the attraction was pretty much the same as its California counterpart, there were some changes, including a different loading area and of course with the added room, there was no need for the stretching room to be an actual elevator taking guests to a lower level. The most significant change was that instead of a New Orleans mansion, the exterior of the building was inspired by the Hudson River Valley, the setting for writer Washington Irving's tale of the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow.

Just below the Haunted Mansion on the river's edge was a dock where, for the first 20-plus years, the Mike Fink Keelboats boarded guests for a trip around the Rivers of America.

The Hall of Presidents featured all the presidents from George Washington to Richard Nixon, all sculpted by Disney Legend Blaine Gibson from photos and paintings. Great attention to detail was taken even in the wardrobe to match the material used during those time periods. If a guest were to lift the pant legs of Franklin Roosevelt, they would see he was wearing polio braces just like in real life. The facade of the original Hall of Presidents was flat brick with three windows directly above three doors into the waiting area. It wasn't until 1973 that the white veranda and breezeway were added. The date of 1787 on the front of the building refers to the year the Constitution was signed, since the focus of the original show was the Constitution and the American Presidency.

Another significant difference in the area was there was live entertainment that brought this colonial area to life.There was a town crier who rang his bell and acted as a living newspaper, sharing the events of the day. Occasionally, Benjamin Franklin might wander through the town sharing his famous sayings with the guests. There was a fife and drum corps that performed until around 1980 that did a ceremony called "Sons and Daughters of Liberty" during which two children were inducted into the ranks. If that ceremony sounds familiar, that's because it and the fife and drum corps moved to the American Adventure at Epcot. Over the last 40 years, a fife and drum corps has occasionally returned to the Liberty Square area. One summer Betsy Ross was even on hand to interact with the guests.

There was no Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe across the street from the Hall of Presidents. That building was devoted to three other businesses. Mademoiselle Lafayette's Parfumerie was one of only four perfume shops in the U.S. at the time that allowed customers to blend fragrances of their choice from dozens of bottles. The guest's special mixture could be recorded at the store for future refills. The Silversmith Shop featured silver trinkets for purchase. Supposedly, it was the establishment of Johnny Tremain, the hero of the Esther Forbes book that was used as the basis for the Disney live-action movie. Old World Antiques had authentic antiques, as well as reproductions ranging in price from $5 to $15,000.

The Heritage House, which sold reprints of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (as well as other red, white and blue merchandise), and the Tricornered Hat Shoppe rounded out the stores that could be found in Liberty Square in 1971.

The Columbia Harbour House, called Chicken & Fish on most of the early Magic Kingdom blueprints and later labeled the Nantucket Harbour House on 1971 souvenir maps, wasn't ready to go until early in 1972. It was the largest quick service counter restaurant on property, two stories with separate kitchens on each floor, to accommodate the large number of guests that originally frequented this section of the park. It helped serve as a transition from the old world Europe of Fantasyland to the seaports of the New World of America.

The Liberty Tree Tavern was modeled after a late 18th-century New England inn, each room filled with Colonial American artifacts and named after some of the early heroes of the country like Betsy Ross, George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, and Paul Revere.

The Liberty Tree has been there since opening day, thanks to the ingenuity of landscaper Bill Evans, who began work transplanting it nearly a year before the Magic Kingdom opened. More than a century old, the 38-ton southern Live Oak (quercus virginiana) was found on the east side of the Walt Disney World property about eight miles from its current location. It continues to thrive today decorated with 13 different lanterns in its branches that many feel suggest the original 13 colonies.

Since the Golden Horseshoe Saloon in Disneyland is very much an icon of Frontierland, some Walt Disney World guests assume the same is true for its doppelganger, the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon. However, ticket books and souvenir maps in 1971 placed the Diamond Horseshoe as a part of Liberty Square, since it represented St. Louis of the 1800s and the transition into the Wild West.

As the Bicentennial became history and as more and more attractions were added to the rest of the Magic Kingdom, Liberty Square faded in popularity. However, for the patient and curious guest, this land still stirs feelings of patriotism, as well as bringing American heritage to life.

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Liberty Square page:

Liberty Square Odds & Ends by Jack Spence:

Liberty Square Restaurant Menus:


Jim KorkisABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is the author of the popular recently published book The Vault of Walt, which contains nearly 40 chapters of untold Disney stories. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

Read more about The Vault of Walt: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0615402429

Jim will also be speaking on the history of the Carousel of Progress at AllEars.Net's It's a Great Big Beautiful Meet! (sponsored by Maple Leaf Tickets), part of our December to Remember 15th anniversary celebration, on Thursday, December 8, 2011, 1 - 4 p.m. at the Contemporary Resort and Carousel of Progress in the Magic Kingdom.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.