Long before Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, long before Pirates Lair took over Tom Sawyer Island, one of the most iconic and beloved pieces of Walt Disney's groundbreaking theme park, Disneyland, was its immersive take on the Wild West. The area was so large and it expanded so quickly that at one point in time, Frontierland covered almost 1/3 of the entire park's land mass.
Imagineer Sam McKim is most likely the artist who created this piece of concept art. He was a film star, making several Westerns and had a real love for the American frontier. The detail in this piece is a testament of his knowledge behind the artistry. (As always, click on the images for a huge version!)
In 1955, America was justifiably proud of its heritage. Western themed films drew big business at the movie box office and were just as successful on the small screen. One of Disney's biggest hits was the five part series about Davy Crockett, making a star out of Fess Parker. The series aired from the end of 1954 until the end of 1955. When Fess himself helped open Disneyland, kids of all ages couldn't wait to explore the Old West for themselves.
Entering through the fort, guests were drawn to the adventures awaiting them. With the Mark Twain Steamboat on the river, the railroad trains chugging by, and the wild antics on stage at the Golden Horseshoe, the West was the place to be. The pack mules and soon the mine train took riders beyond the safety of the town, and eventually, guests go walk farther afield to the Indian Village. The Rivers of America became busier as well. Soon, canoes, keel boats, and the Sailing Ship Columbia plied the waters along with rafts that dropped guests off at Tom Sawyer Island.
Over time, outer space explorations became more exciting to the public, and with Imagineering creating new major attractions, more and more of the original acreage dedicated to the West began to be used. New Orleans Square was the most successful and Bear Country the least- until Splash Mountain came along as part of the renamed Critter Country. The West continues to evolve with even more land being taken over by the Star Wars themed expansion. Perhaps one day, the interests of the public will come full circle, changing the face of the park once again.
A special thanks to Mint Crocodile over at the Magic Eye blog. Mint had the wisdom to photograph these extremely rare pieces of concept art shown in the Disney Gallery during the park's 60th Anniversary celebration. It is from his photographs that I was able to bring out the images you have seen.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)