Then and Now: 50 Years of Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square

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On October 1 of this year, Walt Disney World will mark its 50th Anniversary while kicking off an 18-month celebration; and while all four parks are in on the festivities, the 50-year milestone only belongs to a few locations at the most magical place on earth.

Back in 1971, Walt Disney World opened with two resorts and one park: the Magic Kingdom. Inspired by the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, the Magic Kingdom made its debut with its own version of Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland, along with its own unique land – Liberty Square.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

In previous posts, I’ve covered Then and Now: 50 Years of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort, and Adventureland; and for today, I’m continuing my virtual stroll through the park with a trip back in time to Liberty Square.

So What is Liberty Square?

The Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square sits on the banks of the Rivers of America and right between Fantasyland and Frontierland. It’s also special in that it’s exclusive to the Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, very much like how New Orleans Square is exclusive to Disneyland.

Themed after the era of colonial America, Liberty Square is home to some of the park’s best fare, one of its most iconic attractions, and history related to both the United States and the Magic Kingdom itself.

Facts About Liberty Square Then:

Fact #1: The idea for Liberty Square stemmed from Walt Disney’s unrealized desire for a Liberty Street and Hall of Presidents-esque show at Disneyland. The fact that the nation’s Bicentennial was approaching didn’t hurt either.

Still, in a way, Walt Disney World’s Liberty Square is one of Walt Disney’s own dreams come true.

Fact #2: When the land debuted with the Magic Kingdom in 1971, it still only offered 3 attractions: the Haunted Mansion, the now-defunct Mike Fink Keelboats, and the Hall of Presidents.

Photo courtesy RetroWDW

The Liberty Square Riverboat known as the Liberty Belle didn’t exist yet. Instead, guests traveled the Rivers of America on the Admiral Joe Fowler, which didn’t open until October 2, 1971.

Photo courtesy RetroWDW

Fact #3: The Imagineers went to great lengths to ensure historical accuracy in Liberty Square. For example, the background music heard throughout the land only utilized instruments from that time period, and all of the architecture is meant to resemble the styles and locales of Colonial America, including Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Even the window shutters are crooked since colonists often used leather instead of metal as the latter was used for Revolutionary War effort.

Perhaps the most impressive display of commitment to accuracy has to do with plumbing. Imagineers positioned the bathrooms in Liberty Square’s Columbia Harbour House and Liberty Tree Tavern so that they’re technically in other lands of the park. This is because there was no indoor plumbing in the 1700s and early 1800s.

Fact #4: Another historical detail is the land’s Liberty Tree that was inspired by the trees the Sons of Liberty would meet under during the Revolutionary War period.

The Liberty Tree in Liberty Square.

The Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Tree was moved from land near where Animal Kingdom is today and into the park by legendary Imagineer Bill Evans. While transplanting the giant tree was an effort on its own, the tree’s roots actually had to grow on the roof of the park’s underground Utilidors!

Bonus Fact: Due to the feat required to move this tree, the still-living Liberty Tree is the symbol for Walt Disney World’s horticulture department.

Fact #5: Back in 1971, there was much less foliage in Liberty Square than there is today, particularly around the Haunted Mansion. In fact, Tom Sawyer Island – which sits near the mansion – wouldn’t even open until 1973.

Photo courtesy RetroWDW

Facts About Liberty Square Now:

Fact#1: While many of the Magic Kingdom’s lands have changed since 1971, Liberty Square has largely remained the same (apart from the taller trees and additional shade!) and still boasts tons of historical details including Paul Revere’s lanterns in a Liberty Square window.

Some of the oldest items in Walt Disney World can be found inside the lobby for the Hall of Presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson’s pocket watch and George Washington’s shoe buckles.

Items belonging to modern Presidents are also on display here including a dog tag belonging to Bill Clinton’s dog, George W. Bush’s baseball cards, and more.

Fact #2: The Muppets Present… Great Moments in History were a series of small shows starring the Muppets that were performed in the windows above the land beginning in 2016.

Despite its popularity, Disney cut the show; however, the Muppets – albeit without audio – have been known to appear in their Liberty Square windows around the holidays.

Fact #3: The holidays are alive and well in Liberty Square as Christmas decor is for sale all year round inside Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, and a Thanksgiving meal can be enjoyed 365 days a year at Liberty Tree Tavern in dining rooms themed after historical figures from the colonial era.

Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe at Magic Kingdom

Fact #4: The Haunted Mansion isn’t the only spooky tale within Liberty Square. One of the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe’s storefronts has a sign for music instructor Ichabod Crane who some may know from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Right across the way from this sign is the Sleepy Hollow walk-up window whose own sign features the Headless Horseman. In fact, this very story was set in New York; and interestingly enough, the Haunted Mansion’s architecture is inspired by that of Hudson Valley New York.

Fact #5: In 2011, the Haunted Mansion received a completely unique, interactive queue featuring a pipe organ, a library with moving books, a literal watery grave that spouts water, and more. However, this area of the queue may be closed for safety precautions during your visit.

Did you ever experience the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square back in its early days? Is this land one of your favorites?

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

2 thoughts on “Then and Now: 50 Years of Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square

  • September 23, 2021 at 8:23 pm
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    This is a fun series. Liked the bit about the bathrooms.

    Reply
  • September 23, 2021 at 10:30 pm
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    Is it true that the room upstairs in Columbia harbour house that overlooks the haunted mansion is full of pictures of ghost ships that were lost at sea and never returned home?

    Reply

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