Then and Now: 50 Years of Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A.

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On October 1 of this year, Walt Disney World marked its 50th Anniversary and kicked 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.

In previous posts, I’ve covered Then and Now: 50 Years of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort, Adventureland, Liberty SquareFrontierland, and Fantasyland. However, for today, I’m continuing my virtual stroll through the park with a stop at the “heartbeat of a holiday” – Main Street, U.S.A.

So What is Main Street, U.S.A.?

Essentially, Main Street, U.S.A. is the front door of the Magic Kingdom transporting guests to the world of yesterday and leading them to Cinderella Castle. Much like a theater, guests enter under the train station passing by posters previewing the park’s “shows” and are immediately greeted by the smell of popcorn and red pavement as their red carpet.

The famous windows on the Main Street buildings credit the Imagineers and those who helped bring the park to life, just like how old movies showed the credits before the film began.

Now, unlike most lands at the Magic Kingdom, Main Street, U.S.A. is mostly shopping and dining; but it does offer the Walt Disney World Railroad (still currently closed) and Main Street vehicles.

Facts About Main Street, U.S.A. Then:

Fact #1: In 1971, the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street was more like Disneyland’s version than it is today. For instance, the Magic Kingdom had a Main Street Cinema that actually showed clips and cartoons, as well as a working Penny Arcade.

(photo by Bryan Pugh)

Fact #2: Also like Disneyland’s Main Street, the Magic Kingdom technically had an intersecting street called Center Street. At about the halfway point, a small corridor opened up to the left and right hand of the street breaking up the architecture and simulating the feel of an actual town.

Center Street on both coasts were home to flower markets in their early years; but today, the left side of Disneyland’s Center Street is occupied by Carnation Cafe’s outdoor seating while Disney World’s was replaced by an expansion of the Emporium.

Directional Signage and Spacing Inside Main Street Emporium

Fortunately, the right side of Magic Kingdom’s Center Street is still a side street where guests can get away from the hustle and bustle.

Magical Main Street at Night

Fact #3: In 1971, the hub connecting Main Street, U.S.A. to the rest of the park looked very different than it does today. In addition to a lot more trees, in 1973, Main Street gained an attraction – the Plaza Swan Boats – that transported guests from the hub to the moat of the castle and around the Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland. However, this little boat cruise closed in 1983.

Fact #4: While Casey’s Corner is considered a Main Street staple today, it had a different name back in 1971. In keeping with its Disneyland inspiration, Casey’s Corner was originally called Refreshment Corner.

Facts About Main Street, U.S.A. Now:

Fact #1: Walt Disney is the only person to have two windows on Main Street, U.S.A. One window is appropriately on the train station looking out at the guests coming into the park, and the other is above the Plaza Inn facing Cinderella Castle.

Fact #2: Main Street, U.S.A. offers an actual operating barbershop where guests can get haircuts while at the park. (This experience is still on hiatus following the post-COVID reopening.)

Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street, U.S.A.

Fact #3: The Main Street Bakery, which serves as the park’s Starbucks, is one of the highest rated dining locations on Main Street, U.S.A. according to TouringPlans readers and the park!

Main Street Bakery Starbucks Breakfast Display Case

Fact #4: Today, Main Street, U.S.A. is the top land when it comes to live entertainment. In addition to character cavalcades, Main Street offers distanced character meets on the train station, the legendary Dapper Dans, the Casey’s Corner pianist, and more.

Fact #5: Every day at 5:00 PM, Main Street holds a Flag Retreat ceremony on Town Square and honors veterans for their service.

Fact #6: Of all the lands at the Magic Kingdom, Main Street, U.S.A. is the only one that fully decorates for Christmas. Each year, Main Street receives a massive Christmas tree, a holiday soundtrack, festive wreaths, and wintery window displays; and in the past, Main Street has been known to experience snow flurries during the holiday season.

Main Street Christmas Lamp Post

Did you ever experience the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A. 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.

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