Walt Disney's Tom Sawyer Island

Posted on Tue, 06/16/2015 - 12:00

On this date in 1956, Tom Sawyer Island opened at Disneyland. In celebration of this occasion, we'd like to share this excerpt from Disney author and historian Jim Korkis' book The Revised Vault of Walt (as seen on pages 173–74): 

“Tom Sawyer Island is the only part of Disneyland that Walt single-handedly designed himself. He always planned for an island in the middle of the Rivers of America, but he debated about what the island was going to be. […] it was Imagineer Marvin Davis who labored through dozens of map designs trying to find a workable pattern for the actual Disneyland that opened in 1955. He struggled over the contours of Tom Sawyer Island, but his efforts failed to please Walt.

’Give me that thing,’ Davis remembers Walt saying. That night Walt worked for hours in his red barn workshop in the backyard at his home in the Holmby Hills. The next morning, he laid tracing paper on Davis’ desk and said, ‘Now that’s the way it should be.’ The island was built according to Walt’s design.”

In the museum galleries—near the Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination—is a display showcasing an early concept design by artist Herb Ryman. It is a rough sketch, ink almost hastily scribbled on animation paper, and is exploring ideas for a “river ride,” perhaps to be featured in Frontierland. Amongst the illustrations is a design for an island, with landmarks noted, such as “Three Falls" in addition to “Point Diane” and “Lilly Bay.” The latter most likely were named after Walt’s daughter and spouse, respectively, though such never made it to the final incarnation of Tom Sawyer Island. Instead, guests found adventure at Injun Joe’s Cave and Fort Wilderness among others. 

Lucas O. Seastrom
Museum Educator and Content Developer at The Walt Disney Family Museum