Walt Disney’s Hometown—Where the Magic Began—Part 4

I have always loved miniatures. As kids, my sister and I built our own houses and apartments for our Liddle Kiddles dolls–much smaller than Barbies. I’m fascinated by the Thorne rooms at the Chicago Art Institute. I love wandering into stores that sell miniatures, and I enjoyed my daughter’s dollhouses, too. 

Part of the enjoyment is imagining what it’s like to live there—playing out situations through the doll families that inhabit these places. 

Another part is considering all that goes into creating such small habitats. One example is my previous guest, Rita Trickel, and the whimsical, intricate fairy houses she creates. 


The Walt Disney Hometown Museum houses an array of small buildings modeled after Disneyland. See some of them in my previous post.

In 1964, a young artist, Dale Varner, of Medford, Oregon, made a model of a portion of Disneyland and sent it to Walt Disney. Dale requested pictures of the park so he could make more models. Walt did more than that—he sent Dale a set of Disneyland blueprints so pieces could be made to scale. With basic household materials, Dale turned his model-making into a forty-year project.

Walt’s letter to Dale, July 23, 1964
Disneyland map, 1955

Here’s a sampling of Dale’s Disneyland in miniature . . .

NOTE: Each area is surrounded by glass walls which sometimes caused glares and prevented taking pictures from better angles.

The entrance to the Magic Kingdom
City Hall
New Orleans Square—Pirates of the Caribbean Ride
Frontierland Bazaar and South Sea Traders
The Swiss Robinson treehouse
Fowler’s Harbor — Rivers of America is the home port for the S.S. Columbia and the Mark Twain Riverboat. 
Sleeping Beauty Castle
A peek inside the castle courtyard
Alice’s Mad Tea Party ride in Fantasyland
Snow White’s Adventures ride in Fantasyland
“It’s a Small World after all . . .”
Space Mountain in Tomorrowland

The above constructions are part of Adventureland, including the Enchanted Tiki Room.

The following piece was in progress when Dale passed away: Tom Sawyer Island and the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Tom Sawyer Island in progress

That gives you an idea of what Dale Varner accomplished during his forty-year hobby! He did more than I’ve shown—including the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square and others.


Until 2015 when it fell, you can actually see Walt’s inspirational Dreaming Tree on the old family farm. Today, you can still visit the site. One branch remains, preserved in the museum, where visitors may touch it. 

This forty-foot tree lived over 120 years, far beyond the usual lifespan of cottonwood trees (70 – 100 years), and was struck by lightning in 2008.

Branch from Walt’s Dreaming Tree
Site of the Dreaming Tree, which fell in 2015. Walt credits this tree for his creativity. In the picture, Walt (on right) and Roy return to the tree decades later.

One of the three saplings produced by this tree’s seeds is planted on Tom Sawyer’s Island in Disneyland. 


Elias and Flora’s house on the farm still stands. It is privately owned, but you can view it from the road. I don’t know how later owners got the tar off the side of the house.

The home of Elias and Flora Disney and their family when they first moved to Marceline in 1906.
Same house, front view


The old farm is privately owned but visitors are allowed to walk to the Dreaming Tree and the old barn where Walt and Ruth did chores and played.

When Walt Disney studios released the film So Dear to My Heart in 1949, the setting was early 1900s, coinciding with Walt’s early years. Walt had the movie’s barn built to resemble the barn of his childhood memory. 

Walt’s first foray into show biz was producing a circus in this barn and inviting the neighbors—for a fee, of course. However, the kids protested when they saw nothing but a pig, a goat, and family pets dressed in Ruth’s doll clothes.

Flora insisted that Walt refund the admission. Her advice stuck with him: 

“If you deliver more than your audience expects,
they will never be disappointed.”
–Flora Disney to her son Walt

Walt also modeled the workshop in his California home after this barn. In that workshop, Disney Imagineering was born.

Visitors are invited to write a note to Walt or sign their names—if they can find a spot! Every board and rafter is crammed with words. I searched awhile before finding an open spot.

Note the message from Jeff Keane, the Family Circus cartoonist

So, as the saying goes—with a twist—you can take the boy out of Marceline, but you can’t take Marceline out of the boy.

Walt Disney revisited Marceline, farming, and small town life in person and in spirit whenever he created certain settings, stories, and characters that he served to the rest of us through movies and “the Happiest Place on Earth.” 

“To tell the truth, more things of importance
happened to me in Marceline
than have happened to me since
or are likely to in the future.”
–Walt Disney

Besides Walt Disney’s Hometown Museum, if you ever go to Marceline, you’ll find a dozen-plus other museums going across the state on highway 36—taking you east all the way to Hannibal, Mark Twain’s hometown. Or go southwest from Marceline on 35/110 to Kansas City and see the Steamboat Museum and the National Toy and Miniature Museum, or take in a Royals’ baseball game. Then there’s the Ozarks . . .

There’s plenty to do in Missouri. And plenty to enjoy and contemplate in Marceline.

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

In what ways have you been impacted by Walt Disney and his legacy? Or another celebrity?  

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


7 thoughts on “Walt Disney’s Hometown—Where the Magic Began—Part 4

  1. We just took our first Disney Cruise in May with the kids. It was my first Disney entertainment venue since I was 10 (Disneyland – Anaheim, CA). I have to say it was just as magical, if not more! That is really impressive to me that a company can bring to life the child in everyone, regardless of their age.

  2. The Alice’s Mad Tea Party picture immediately brought back memories of my sister, my mom, and me riding it in Disney World. It was spring break before my sister’s senior year, so my parents took us for a special family vacation before she headed off to college. It was great with lots of memories, but we probably enjoyed Epcot more than the Magic Kingdom because Adventureland with Tom Sawyer, etc, was closed for repairs– and for some reason the day we were in Magic Kingdom, one of my siblings had to visit the bathroom every 20 minutes.
    There was also an epic rainstorm that drove everyone out of the park, and we made the mistake of trying to ride the little golf carts to our car–the cart seats were covered in 3 inches of water. We would have been drier if we’d just run to the car. But it made for a lot of laughs, and we went back to the hotel and ate fried chicken and watched movies. 🙂 All in all, it was a great trip!
    (And no matter what unexpected things happened there, it had to be better than MY senior spring break –which the school board canceled to make up for a freak 12-inch ice storm that hit in January :-@ )

    1. It’s funny how even the crazy things that happen on vacation can be fun and spark laughter and good memories later–like running from the rainstorm. Glad you got the Disney experience for your sister’s graduation since it didn’t work out with yours!

  3. The Disney home in Marceline is a delight, and so are the miniature reproductions of Disneyland. I always thought Walt Disney was magical, but I’m not sure why! Wonderful World of Disney was on Sunday nights. We were in church, and besides, we couldn’t watch TV on Sundays. And even after my parents decided movies would not bring us to the pit of hell, we could afford to see so few! But my big sister had photo books from the 1964 Mary Poppins movie and “That Darn Cat.” I think with Haley Mills? And I memorized those books. Poured over them. Thought “If the books are this good, the movies must be absolutely incredible!”
    So in a way, Walt Disney delivered more in my imagination than he might have if I’d seen all his movies and watched the TV show. He was not only bigger than life, he was almost mythical, and no one could have lived up to the man and his world that I built in my head!

    1. How ironic—that missing out on the Disney movies made Disney more mythical in your head than if you’d seen them all! We weren’t allowed to watch TV on Sundays either, except for after church in the evening. Evening church was early enough that we could catch The Wonderful World of Disney, Bonanza, and the annual Wizard of Oz!

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