Virginians in Civil War Over Disney Park Plans : Development: The attraction is intended to illustrate history, but at present it’s driving a wedge between blue-collar Haymarket and exclusive The Plains. Haymarket is ecstatic, The Plains aghast.


A tale of two towns: Historic old Haymarket, workaday and blue-collar, where a church raises funds with an all-you-can-eat spaghetti supper and grocer Mike Davis sells nightcrawlers.

And, just over Bull Run Mountain, a town called The Plains, its tidy brick sidewalks and antique shops nestled in Virginia’s old-money, fox-hunting countryside; a place where the village smithy, craftsman Nol Putnam, forges ornate gateposts on his anvil.

Between these two towns and these two neighbors, a wedge has been driven: Walt Disney is coming, to Haymarket’s delight and The Plains’ dismay.


Disney woke up the countryside last fall by revealing that its agents had quietly bought land or options on 3,000 acres of Prince William County countryside, on the edge of Haymarket, as the site for its fifth theme park, its third in America.

Disney’s America is intended to illustrate American history, from Pocahontas to Steven Jobs. The park will open in 1998--unless opponents like blacksmith Putnam prevail.

Disney plans a man-made lake where the Monitor and the Merrimack will re-enact their Civil War battle. America’s immigrant experience will be retold at a replica of Ellis Island. The “painful, disturbing and agonizing” stories of the enslavement of the blacks, the massacre of the natives, the divisions of Vietnam--all will be dealt with, said Disney Chairman Michael Eisner.

There will be a steam train, a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster too. And with a push of a button, an “audio-animatronic” Bill Clinton (or whoever is President in 1998) will deliver a speech.

All this makes some historians itch. Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, mused: “Can George Washington coexist with Mickey Mouse? Can slavery be properly interpreted in an amusement park?”

These are not questions that plague Haymarket grocer Davis. He was one of the first to capitalize on Disney’s plans. He printed up T-shirts with the legend, “Haymarket, Virginia--Just Another Mickey Mouse Town.” By Christmas, he’d sold 1,200--in a town of 483 citizens.

Davis estimates that 80% of Haymarket welcomes Disney, on the grounds that development is inevitable and Disney will bring jobs and prosperity.

Even those with doubts, Davis said, hesitate chiefly because they think the company, and not Virginia taxpayers, should pay for the new roads and sewers that Disney demands.

“Something is going to get the land out here,” he said. “It might as well be Disney. We couldn’t ask for a better taxpayer.”

Over the mountain, volunteers hand out bumper stickers that say, “Disney Makes Millions. We Pay Millions,” and another that shows the shield symbol of I-66 and asks, “Disney’s New Parking Lot?”

I-66, already congested, carries commuters to Washington, 35 miles away.

Blacksmith Putnam bemoans the changes he foresees.

“We’re getting seduced,” he said. “The Plains will no longer be a bucolic little town. We’ll get the spillover--maybe not 30,000 visitors a day, but we could get 5,000. We’ll be inundated. And following that will be all the things people want, gas stations, motels and, God help us, the fast-food strips.”

Disney knew what it was doing when it picked Haymarket. Twenty million tourists a year visit Washington--exactly the family clientele Disney appeals to. Most come by car. Disney plans to lure them west.

Unlike Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., which is a vacation destination by itself, the Virginia park is intended to be one day’s stop in a Washington vacation. It will be only a 10th the size of the Orlando extravaganza, insists Mark Pacala, general manager of the Virginia project.

Disney’s re-enactments will play out on historic soil. Long before George Washington made war on the British, Haymarket was an important colonial crossroads.

When the Civil War broke out, “Every man but one in Haymarket voted for secession,” said town historian Robert L. Crewdson. “Apparently that man was very nearly mobbed.”

Two Civil War battles, the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, were fought in the hills nearby. Both were Confederate routs known to Southerners as the battles of Manassas. Later, Union troops sacked Haymarket.

Within a day’s easy drive are other tourist draws--King’s Dominion and Busch Gardens, two commercial parks; and Jamestown, Yorktown and the restored village of Colonial Williamsburg.

And thousands of tourists will be pulled to nearby Dulles Airport when the Smithsonian Institution builds a huge air and space museum there to house the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb, a Concorde supersonic transport and the space shuttle Enterprise.

Disney expects to welcome as many as 30,000 visitors a day (in 7,500 cars), Pacala said, and to reap other profits too.

In addition to the 125-acre theme park, it plans a 144-room hotel, a 27-hole golf course, 2,500 homes, and office and retail space. He said the company will invest $1 billion in 15 years.

“Virginia is open for business,” declared newly installed Gov. George Allen, hailing Disney’s plans. He asked the Legislature, which is somewhat more wary, for $163 million to build a new I-66 interchange, widen roads and provide infrastructure. County taxpayers would have to approve additional millions.

Enter the opposition, mostly from the next-door Fauquier County, much of it from the Piedmont Environmental Council, waging a splashy campaign called “Disney--Take a Second Look.”

(A joke making the rounds, the Fauquier Citizen reported, is that if God wanted to move heaven to Haymarket the PEC would advise, “God--take a second look.”)

The quality of jobs Disney will bring has become an issue. Disney foresees 12,400 new jobs--2,700 at the park, 3,700 at the hotel and other Disney enterprises and the rest spinoff jobs created by the arrival of so many newcomers to the area.

But these are mostly low-paying jobs, and the new residents may require government services that will more than absorb the tax revenue generated by Disney, opponents say.

Many of the same activists succeeded a few years ago in blocking a regional shopping center that would have bordered the Manassas battlefield.

“We’re not opposed to a Disney theme park for Virginia, but Haymarket is the wrong place,” said Bob Dennis, president of the environmental council.

“It would destabilize a thriving agricultural economy to have a city--that’s what is coming--plopped right down on its edge, in a mixed landscape ranging from cattle farms and wood lots to highly invested vineyards and horse-breeding facilities,” he said.

Disney’s Pacala attributes the furor to a small core of Virginia’s landed gentry. “It’s amazing what money can buy,” he said.