Saturday, January 08, 2011

Saturday at the Archives: The History of Silver Creek Springs
Editor's Note:  Our very good friend and fellow Disney historian Jim Korkis kindly linked to 2719 Hyperion earlier this week in his regular Mouse Planet column.  Jim wrote a terrific article on the Forgotten Story of the Wilderness Lodge, and we were happy to assist Jim in some of the research on the subject.  In our earliest of days here at 2719, we ran a three-part series that detailed the Wilderness Lodge back story.  We thought it would be a great tie-in to Jim's article to reprint it now as part of our Saturday at the Archives series.

Silver Creek Springs: A History
By Jeffrey Pepper
Originally published December 3, 2006

The history of Silver Creek Springs, a valley of exquisite beauty and amazing natural wonders, located in America‘s great Northwest, can be traced back to one rugged individual who embodied the frontier spirit of that long ago time. Colonel Ezekiel Moreland first discovered this majestic landscape in the early part of the 19th century, and then later, along with his daughter Genevieve, and soon to be renowned artist Frederich Alonzo Gustaf, returned to settle the area and make it their new home.

Their story is all the more remarkable in that it never really happened. Silver Creek Springs exists neither in the history nor geography of this country’s great western frontier. The area that Ezekiel Moreland described as “a tranquil valley along the shores of a splendid lake,” is in reality located in the heart of Walt Disney World, just minutes from the Magic Kingdom theme park. It is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort.

The story behind the Lodge has been related to guests via The Silver Creek Star, a faux newspaper given to guests at check-in. Mixed with guest services information are a number of articles that relate the stories behind the Lodge’s creation and its many points of interest.

Ezekiel Moreland was a veteran of the War of 1812. Recently widowed and inspired by the accounts of Lewis and Clark, the retired colonel mounted a westbound expedition in 1823. His party of fifty or so intrepid adventurers however, quickly met with disaster. A buffalo stampede, some ten thousand animals strong, destroyed nearly all their provisions a mere eighty miles up the Missouri River from their starting point. They limped back to St. Louis, and all but Moreland gave up on the expedition. In a letter to daughter Genevieve he wrote:

“I take to the wilderness alone. The good earth will provide me with everything I need to survive. I have my gun. I have my courage and I have my determination. What need I of anything else, especially of cowardly scoundrels who turn ashen in the face of the smallest adversity.”

Two years later, Moreland would emerge back out of the wilderness and send for his daughter, engaging her with news of the paradise he had uncovered. Moreland had also become a wealthy man, having brought back from his travels a substantial collection of beaver pelts and other furs. Intrigued by her father’s good fortune and unbridled passion, Genevieve, a young art curator, took a leave of absence and set out for St. Louis where her father was waiting. Joining her as a traveling companion was the young Austrian artist Alonzo Gustaf who desired to capture in painting the new frontier he had been hearing so much about.

Upon arriving in the valley of Silver Creek Springs, Genevieve and Gustaf found their destinies newly defined. According to the Silver Creek Star:

“Using the small fortune her father had raised from the fur trade, they brought out a crew of men from St. Louis and had a small lodge built near the fresh water spring. Jenny would remain in Silver Creek Springs for the remainder of her life. She estab lished a preservation area in her father's honor, where others could enjoy the natural beauty of the wilderness. The Wilderness Lodge welcomed artists, scientists and nature lovers of all kinds over the years. As the number of visitors grew, the Lodge expanded to accommodate them. Eventually, they added rooms that grew around the spring, making it part of the Wilderness Lodge.”

Frederich Alonzo Gustaf at Artist Point
By Jeffrey Pepper
Originally published December 10, 2006

Most Walt Disney World guests know Artist Point as the signature restaurant at the Wilderness Lodge resort. But in the fictional history of Silver Creek Springs, it refers to a specific location that predates the actual building of the lodge itself.

Young and ambitious, Frederich Alonzo Gustaf accompanied Genevieve Moreland on her journey west, in hopes of making a name for himself as a painter. Standing upon high rocks above the valley that Colonel Ezekiel Moreland discovered, Gustaf knew at that moment he had found his destiny. He immediately unpacked his gear and set up his easel somewhat precariously on a rocky outcropping that provided the best possible views of the surrounding area.

The Silver Creek Star newspaper related in an article what subsequently happened:

No sooner had the brush touched the canvas than the ground began to tremble. The artist quickly grabbed his seat and managed to keep his easel from falling. After the tremors had subsided, he looked to the Colonel and Jenny and smiled assuredly. "You see Colonel, I am something of a frontiersman myself." Only the Colonel knew what lay in store.

The tremor was only a warning. The explosion of the geyser was sudden and swift. The sound of so much water being pro pelled to such a height was earth shattering. As expected — and unexpected, the easel, the artist and all his supplies tumbled over the ledge. Gustaf survived the fall, and despite its obvious dangers, the ledge became his favorite place from which to paint.

The ledge soon became a favorite of other artists as well, such men as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. who soon flocked to the area in search of the perfect landscape. Years later, when the Lodge was finished, a formal dining room was built on the exact location and was aptly named Artist Point.

Silver Creek, Dynamite and Ol' Georgie MacGregor
By Jeffrey Pepper
Originally published December 17, 2006

Over the years, many colorful characters found their way to the valley of Silver Creek Springs, the fictional home of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort. One such individual, Georgie MacGregor, is especially notable for his contribution to the Lodge’s surrounding landscape and the very nature of Silver Creek itself.

MacGregor, a prospector, arrived in the valley in 1852 seeking his fortune. Silver Creek was named for its mineral deposits that made the water shimmer, but that didn’t deter MacGregor. He was convinced there was a rich silver vein there just waiting to be tapped. The Silver Creek Star newspaper related how Georgie managed to “set up camp” near the Lodge with the help of proprietress Genevieve Moreland:

Even if Ol' Georgie was "a few logs shy of a full load" in the common sense department, he was nevertheless cunning. When he approached the Wilderness Lodge, he presented himself not as a prospector, but as a cook. The frontier, at this time, did not have a surplus of chefs, so such skills were highly valued. The Lodge had become a gathering place for artists, naturalists and others, and Jenny thought Ol' Georgie would be a welcomed addition. She offered Ol' Georgie a room in the Lodge in exchange for his services. He responded, "Now, Miss Jenny, I reckon the best place fer me is yonder, by that thar stream. Thataways I won't bother any of your guests an' I'll be closer to the trout. I kin clean the pans easier thataways, too. 

It wasn’t long before Jenny discovered MacGregor’s true intentions. In a surprise visit to his camp, she discovered cooking pans filled with water and silt from the stream, and Ol’ Georgie was shooting trout point blank with his Hawken pistol. Jenny quickly hired a new cook, a former Army sergeant, in hopes of dissuading MacGregor from his hopeless endeavors.

It didn’t work.

The Silver Creek Star related the subsequent sequence of events, and their explosive consequences:

On a supply run to the trading post for cooking utensils and fishing gear, Georgie returned with two crates. He took one to the kitchen and the other he carted off to his cabin. Ol' Georgie was cooking up one last plan to uncover his fortune. The next morning, Ol' Georgie doggedly served breakfast and slipped away quietly to his cabin. The guests were still gathered around the table, discussing how much better the food tasted when all of a sudden, a tremendous explosion shook the very foundation of the Lodge, knocking them to the floor.

After collecting themselves, they scrambled down the stream in a panic. Where the stream once flowed gently over rocks was now a cav ernous, smoldering hole, deep in the earth. Ol’ Georgie was no where in sight. His cabin was splintered and roofless. The group stood in silent amazement at the damage around them. A faint voice was heard from above. Ol' Georgie had blown himself twenty feet up a pine tree, black as tar and barely conscious. A box labeled dynamite stood under the tree.

It was the last time Ol" Georgie ever looked for gold or silver. And the cratered pool he blew into the ground serves as one of the fondest recreational pastimes at the Lodge.

At Disney, even the swimming pool has a back story.

Another interesting detail in the vicinity of Silver Creek relates to the Teton Boat and Bike Rental, located near the lake shore. The building is the original cabin that Colonel Ezekiel Moreland built shortly after arriving in the valley for the first time.