Welcome to Extinct Attractions. This week, we’ll be taking a trip back to the earliest days of the Magic Kingdom to take a trip on the Rivers of America.
This past weekend, the D23 Expo was held in Anaheim. “The Ultimate Disney Fan Event” was certainly that, with thousands and thousands of fans going (myself included) for a fun-filled weekend of panels, show floor experiences and more. The weekend really got me thinking about the past and with all the talk of the company’s 100th anniversary celebration, I figured I should do one more post about the resort celebrating its 50th anniversary before coverage of the 100th takes over.
Admiral Joe Fowler (left) is one of the most important people in theme park history that no one really talks about. A retired Navy ship builder, Fowler was brought into the fold to lead the construction of Disneyland. Without Fowler, there is no way that Disneyland would have been able to be constructed in a year. In fact, Walt Disney was so impressed with his work that he pegged Fowler to run operations at the park until an even larger task came along, building Walt Disney World. Fowler took that task in stride, laying the foundation for the ultimate vacation destination.
When the Magic Kingdom opened, the park came complete with its own Rivers of America and riverboat, though this one was specifically named the Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat in about as fitting of a name as possible considering Fowler’s prior history as shipbuilder.
The Admiral Joe actually opened a day after the Magic Kingdom on October 2, 1971 in a funny bit of irony considering that the Fowler himself was known for getting a lot of his construction done in record times.
When the park first opened, the attraction cost a D-Ticket, which was quite a lot considering that the RIvers of America wasn’t even close to complete at the time. Tom Sawyer Island was still almost two years away from completion and though there were plans for the Western River Expedition, there was basically nothing else in all of Frontierland. Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain were still years away, so the sights on the trip were basically non-existent. To compensate, bands often performed on board to try and give guests some type of entertainment.
With Walt Disney World growing in popularity very quickly, plans were made to add a sister ship, with the Richard F. Irvine Riverboat debuting on May 20, 1973. (Richard Irvine also helped in the construction of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, serving as the head of design and planning for WED Enterprises – what is today Walt Disney Imagineering.) While the two looked very similar, the easiest way to tell them apart was that the Fowler had two smokestacks while the Irvine only had one.
The two boats ran together for years, working in concert just like Fowler and Irvine did for years and years. But in 1980, tragedy struck when the Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat was damaged beyond repair while being moved for repairs. By this point, demand in the park (as well as for the attraction) had died down, so they didn’t even try and find a replacement for the riverboat. It was taken to a local ship boneyard and salvaged for parks, some of which actually made their way into other Disney attractions. The steam engine was used in the ship in Tokyo Disneyland, while the whistle was added to the Roy O. Disney locomotive on the Walt Disney World Railroad.
Via Resorts Gal
In 1996, the Richard F. Irvine Riverboat was renamed the Liberty Square Riverboat, where it remains today, to tie in more with the land, but that doesn’t mean the name was gone. The ferries between Transportation and Ticket Center and Magic Kingdom were renamed after Admiral Joe Fowler and Richard F. Irvine, so that the two could continue to bring guests into the Magic Kingdom they had helped create. In other words, it was a fairytale come true.
As always, don’t forget to check out my interactive maps of the Disney Parks throughout the years where you can watch or learn more about all the attractions from every Disney park around the world.
Thanks for reading and have a magical day!