In the mid-’70s, Fort Wilderness quickly became one of Disney’s most epic resorts. Pioneer Hall, Hoop-De-Doo Revue, and the Fort Wilderness Railroad were up and running, and River Country became the resort’s “crown jewel” when it opened in 1975. By 1976, Fort Wilderness joined The Contemporary and The Polynesian as a totally unique vacation destination. These hotels all had their own recreational activities and attractions for guests to enjoy outside of the parks.
However, plans to expand the resort were in the works as early as 1972. At the time, the property had a relatively empty area called “Settlement”. It consisted of a little beach, a boat dock, and a petting zoo. Imagineers tossed around several ideas for the expansion project, including a fun house-inspired concept developed by legendary Imagineer Marc Davis.
The initial proposal was to create a hillbilly hotel called The Roost. Set in a large red barn, this attraction was “a kind of indoor Tom Sawyer Island.” The main characters hosting the attraction would be the owners of the hotel, Jasper and Maude.
Jasper’s description was a mild-mannered inventor who was always working on new contraptions to add to the hotel, including a variety of whirligigs on the roof. Maude, a loud heavy set woman, was a contrasting character to Jasper. She loved her pet chickens and named each hotel room after her favorite guests and idols.
The Roost’s theme was all about Maude’s chickens, who would cluck, sing, and talk based on their moods. The hens would sort of act as narrators, offering jokes and commentary all throughout the hotel.
As for the individual rooms themes, each one had its own character inspired by Maude’s favorite people. Names included Paul Bunyan, Ichabod Crane, Johnny Appleseed, and more.
Maude and Jasper would greet guests from the balcony above the registration desk as they entered The Roost. Maude sat in a rocking chair petting a rooster sitting in her lap as she and Jasper explained the attraction to guests.
After the preshow, guests would enter into a variety of interactive walking attractions filled with zany tricks and gag.
Maude’s Kitchen would be a slanting room featuring hens laying eggs into jasper’s “egg mover”. Other tricky elements included water running uphill and boxes disguised as chairs.
Paul Bunyan’s Bedroom would be a tall room with a huge bouncy mattress on the floor. Huge paintings of Paul, Babe the Blue Ox, and his ax would hang on the walls.
Hall of Doors would have been the primary demonstration of Imagineer Wathel Rogers’ awesome projection technology. Each of the doors would open into different silly gags, including:
- A door marked “Exit” that opened onto an oncoming train
- Rain and thunder behind the door of the Florida Room
- A “Rest Room” that opened on to a single chair
- a “no smoking” room with the shape of a man who sprays water at viewers
- Two elevators that looked like they would take guests up and down but actually went nowhere
Windwaggon Smith’s Nautical Quarter would be a circular room with windows looking out onto Frontier Town. Various cranks and levers inside the room would make the weather vanes outside the hotel spin and move.
- Earthquake Room
- Dosi-Doe (outdoor balcony with a shaking floor)
- The “Prairie Schooner Hall”, which would sway from side to side
- Jasper’s Attic
- A Laundry Chute Slide
- Upside Down Dining Room
- A Mirror Maze with two dead ends that featured projections of fluttering bats and the Headless Horseman
- A Dark Maze completely experienced only through touch
Issues and dead ends with some of the illusions began to cause problems during the development process. Eventually, Imagineers needed to rework the whole concept.
The new plan, renamed Adventure House, ditched the whole hotel storyline and doubled up on the illusions. At this time, classic funhouses started losing popularity so the project needed to take a more modern turn. The idea for Adventure House focused more on Haunted Mansion-style tricks and illusions than funhouse gags.
The hens from The Roost made it into plans for Adventure House’s preshow area. Every time a hen laid an egg, it dropped into a basket and a bell rang. Once three eggs dropped, a portrait of Maude and Jasper came alive and the pre-show began. The illusions started in the pre-show area with benches that randomly expanded or sank.
After the preshow, everyone would file into the library for a safety announcement from a cast member. After the short speech, guests were free to explore the attraction.
Tentative plans for Adventure House included some fresh ideas and some reworked concepts from The Roost. Some elements, like the perspective hallway, crapped, like the perspective hallway.
Prairie Schooner Hall became an endless hallway that served as the introduction to the attraction. Short hallways linked each scene together, some simple and some filled with crazy experiences. Each hallway would be sound-proof, so guests would go from noisy gag rooms to completely silent halls.
The Dining Room
In this version of the plans, the dining room was no longer as a tilt room. The new design was for a visual gag with a bucket system carrying food above the dining room table. On the table, a model train would carry platters in and out of the kitchen. Marc Davis wanted the model train to make the same amount of noise as a full-sized locomotive! In the kitchen, buckets of food drifted out of an old fashioned cabinet into the dining room and returned empty. Other kitchen elements included a self-operating water pump and kettles rattling on the stove, both using effects from the Carousel of Progress.
Another room, called The Greenhouse, was inspired by elements from the Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion, and Jungle Cruise. The Greenhouse floor would have been made with soft material and covered with a layer of fog. The Greenhouse would have been home to a variety of goofy and sneering man-eating plants.
Jasper’s Den would have utilized the tilt room illusion. The centerpiece was a billiards table where the balls rolled uphill. Other items in the room included a fish tank with a full-sized shark inside and a cat who was terrified of a bear rug. The cat would have been a duplicate of the one in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
In the Photography Studio, cameras set up on each side of the room would alternate flashes. With every flash, silhouettes of ghouls would appear on the walls and then slowly fade out. An updated version of the mirror maze plan was including in Adventure House designs, featuring Maude and Jasper appearing and disappearing throughout.
In the bathroom, a bathtub covered with a curtain would be in the center of the room. High-pitched singing could be heard from behind the curtain, and as guests moved through the room they would learn the music was coming from an opera-singing alligator sitting in the tub.
Upon entering the guest room, people would hear loud snoring coming from a large figure under the bed covers. A sleeping bear’s expanding belly and paws could be seen moving in time with the snores. The bear’s snoring would be so loud that the room moved with each inhale and exhale.
In the attic, guests would find a hooting owl, a player piano, and busts that come to life and talk. This room would be a playground/obstacle course-style experience. People who entered this room would navigate around furniture and other props.
The Adventure House project at Disney’s Fort Wilderness seems to be an idea that Disney was seriously considering. Imagineers created mock-ups of sets and mazes and ran tests on various effects, so the concept made it pretty far into the development process. There’s not a clear explanation for why it never actually came to life at the resort. The addition of Adventure House would have turned Fort Wilderness into a full Disney attraction. The resort would have been a destination on its own, with Discovery Island, River Country, Adventure House, and the Hoop-De-Doo Revue all in one place or a Fort Wilderness Railroad stop away.
Although it never became a part of Disney’s Fort Wilderness, pieces of Adventure House later appeared in plans for the Western River Expedition and eventually inspired elements of EPCOT’s American Adventure pavilion. Want more Unbuilt Disney? Check out the hotels that never made it to Walt Disney World Resort!