Walt Disney’s Hometown–Where the Magic Began–Part 3

In the summer of 1946, Walt Disney returned to his beloved Marceline, Missouri on a secret mission–with a camera. Only later did townsfolk find out why. 

During that visit, the concept of Disneyland, you might say, was merely a twinkle in Walt’s eye.

But when Disneyland was unveiled in 1955, visitors could see bits of downtown Marceline imprinted on Main Street, U.S.A.

If you haven’t already, read my first two posts about my visit to Walt’s hometown, Marceline, and the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.

DOWNTOWN MARCELINE: The Inspiration for Main Street, USA

Kansas Avenue in downtown Marceline, Missouri

Miniature Disneyland models pictured below were built by Dale Varner. More about that next time.

The ALLEN HOTEL became HOTEL MARCELINE in Disneyland

Once when Elias Disney took his family to eat at the Allen Hotel (built 1906), little sister Ruth accidentally spilled a plate of food. Ruth was mortified and Papa was not happy. A lecture ensued—about wasting “hard-earned money.”

CATERS OPERA HOUSE became THE OPERA HOUSE

As a child, Walt saw many live shows at the opera house, including Peter Pan—perhaps the inspiration for the animated feature? 

Disney’s Peter Pan was released in 1953.

MURRAY’S DEPARTMENT STORE became the DISNEYLAND EMPORIUM

Flora Disney took her son Walt to Murray’s Department store for his first pair of overalls. Far more fitting for the now country boy after moving from Chicago.

UPTOWN THEATRE became MAIN STREET THEATRE/CINEMA

Uptown Theatre was built after the Disney family moved from Marceline. Even so, Walt chose it for the Midwest movie premiere of The Great Locomotive Chase in 1956.

Main Street Cinema is on the right. A more idealized version rather than a replica.

ZURCHER BUILDING and COKE WALL became COKE CORNER

In 1906, a Coke mural was painted on the wall adjacent to Zurcher store. Disneyland utilizes the same Zurcher building details.

The Coke Wall was revitalized in 2015. 
The Zurcher building today, with a corner door. The Coke wall is on the right, out of view.
Miniature of Coke Corner at Disneyland, based on Marceline’s Zurcher building

Ripley Park in downtown Marceline was donated by the Santa Fe Railroad, and named after E.P. Ripley, president of the Sante Fe Railway. The Santa Fe line goes through Marceline. Walt named his Disneyland locomotive the E.P. Ripley, and always gave Santa Fe Railway engineers free admission to Disneyland. The locomotive in Ripley Park was named the Sante Fe and Disneyland R.R.

So Walt definitely took Marceline with him to California. He celebrated Marceline not just through Main Street, USA buildings, but in movies, too. Each of the following films has some connection to a Marceline memory: Pollyanna, Ferdinand, Lady and the Tramp, Song of the South, and So Dear To My Heart.

THE MARCELINE PROJECT 

For years, Walt had the notion to buy his father’s old farm, and more acreage, to recreate a 1906 Midwest working farm so contemporary children could see how it operated. 

“There will come a time when a child will not know
what an acre of land is.
There will come a time when a child will not know
what happens when you put a seed in the ground.” 
— Walt Disney

This secret project included renovating downtown and implementing amusement rides–which is why he donated Midget Autopia in 1966. In 1956, Roy and Walt had already discussed the buying of property with Rush Johnson.

Walt himself sketched the plan. This drawing was on his Burbank Studio desk when he died in December, 1966.  

Walt’s concept sketch of the Marceline Project

The groundbreaking for this project was scheduled for five months later. But instead of going ahead with the Marceline Project, brother Roy went full force into “The Florida Project”—to make Walt’s theme park dream a reality in Orlando. 

On September 11, 1968, Roy, his wife Edna, and widowed Lilly Disney returned to Marceline for the post office’s Stamp Day parade. The USPS issued a commemorative stamp from Marceline. In 2003, the Marceline post office was renamed for him, the only federal building named after Walt Disney.

DOWNTOWN MARCELINE

Back in the early 1900s, Marceline had only 3-digit phone numbers. That has changed, among other things. But as I strolled downtown on Kansas Avenue, I think I caught a glimpse of the Marceline Walt knew: the old Zurcher building, the Coke wall, E.P. Ripley Park. 

But I’m guessing these Mickey ears on the street signs weren’t there before.

Downtown Marceline today.

Join me next time for more about the Disney family’s house and barn, and the Disneyland miniatures created by Dale Varner.

Interested in a Disney trip?

Ron’s just mad about Disney travel! Travel specialist Ron Baxley, Jr. with Mad Hatter Adventures Travel Company sells and does planning for more than just Walt Disney World packages. He sells Disney vacation packages of all types. -Free Disney gift cards or other incentives with each booked, fully-paid-for vacation. -Payment plans for Walt Disney World packages. For more information, see his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RonMadHatterAdventuresCompany/ or email ron@madhatteradv.com

What is special about your own hometown?  

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

6 thoughts on “Walt Disney’s Hometown–Where the Magic Began–Part 3

  1. Back in the day, we’d take tours of the Kellogg’s plant in Battle Creek, MI, and it would end with free ice cream and Froot Loops! I don’t know who thought of that combination, but it was a good one. Maybe it’s time to try that again…it’s been decades!

    1. Ah yes, Kellogg’s. That’s the thing about growing up in Battle Creek. Everybody you ever meet says, “Cereal City, eh?”

      We sure did love the Froot Loops on ice cream after the tours! But I prefer to not try it again. That combination doesn’t have the same appeal anymore!

  2. Sounds like a great town to visit. I love going places where I can imagine how they lived all those years before, and it’s sweet that this town seems to have kept the magic. I love that it meant so much to Disney that he replicated it at Disney Land. I’ve never been to either place, but it makes me want to. Something about all those stores in a straight line down Main St. feels nostalgic.
    Has anyone from Disney ever talked of trying to make his dream of the working farm project a reality? We have Old World Wisconsin, but I think it would be neat to have a place where kids could actually try their hand at some of it. Milking cows, harvesting wheat… Maybe that wasn’t Disney’s full plan, but I think it would be wonderful!

    1. I have no idea, Elizabeth. I agree–the working farm idea is a great one, especially for kids and their families. Aren’t there farms or ranches where families can go for a week to get the flavor or farming? Or even for a day.

  3. I had no idea of the link Disney had to this little town. I lived in many towns—6 in 5 different states by the time I was in 4th grade. But I have a soft spot for little towns with everything you could really need available at the locally-owned grocery store, the 5-and-dime and the little pharmacy. I know I have small town USA idealized, but my crazy childhood was actually rather idyllic!
    Thanks for this charming visit to a charming town. Aren’t we thankful to Marceline for its influence on Walt Disney?

    1. Sweet that you have that soft spot for small towns, in spite of all your moving around. I love small towns, too.

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