Presidents Park: Virginia’s Knock-Off Mount Rushmore

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

In the early 2000s, there once sat a rather unusual tourist attraction in the heart of Virginia: Presidents Park. Intended to be an educational tourist attraction similar to Mount Rushmore, it featured the heads of nearly every US President. Unfortunately, the park never experienced the popularity its founders hoped it would, leading to its closure in 2010.

Finding the perfect location

The concept for Presidents Park came from Houston artist David Adickes. While on his way home from a trip to Canada, he made a stop at Mount Rushmore. It was then the idea came to him to create a similar monument to the presidents. However, instead of just a few, he wanted to honor them all.

Side view of the bust of Abraham Lincoln
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Busts of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon
Photo Credit: David from Washington DC / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0
Side view of the bust of Andrew Jackson
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

Initially, Adickes wanted to erect his monument in Washington, D.C., alongside the city’s other presidential attractions. When no one agreed to his plans, he began searching for another location, eventually settling on Williamsburg, Virginia, the site of Colonial Williamsburg. When compared to the attractions available in the historic district, locals worried Presidents Park would be too tacky and/or draw away business.

Close up of the bust of John F. Kennedy
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Aerial view of the Presidential busts that made up Presidents Park
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Front view of the bust of George Washington
Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Adickes approached Haley Newman, President of the FCR Group and the brains behind a local waterpark, Water Country USA. He then began work on the sculptures that would make up the park. While initially intent on having them on location until it officially opened, Adickes was forced to hide his creations due to the need for building permits he had not yet obtained.

Presidents Park fails to become a popular attraction

After a delay due to severe weather, Presidents Park opened in March 2004. It cost just over $10 million to set up, and was meant to be an educational attraction aimed at preserving the memories of America‘s commanders-in-chief. Large busts – weighing 22,000 pounds and standing between 18 and 20 feet tall – were erected along 10-acres of manicured walking paths, allowing visitors to get up close and inspect their likenesses to the actual presidents.

Three women standing in front of the bust of George Washington
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
View of the busts from Presidents Park behind the one of George Washington
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Woman taking a photo of the busts from Presidents Park
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

Busts of all the presidents were created, except one: Barack Obama, the country’s 44th leader. While many might assume the reason was political, Adickes actually did want to feature him in the park – he just couldn’t draw up the funds needed to make his bust!

Back of one of the presidential busts from Presidents Park
Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Side view of the bust of Abraham Lincoln
Photo Credit: Matt McClain / The Washington Post / Getty Images
Bust from Presidents Park surrounded by a mountain of soil
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Unfortunately, Presidents Park wasn’t able to draw in many tourists. The lack of income, as a result, meant that the busts began to show signs of wear and tear, as they were kept outside. The weather began creating cracks, chips and stains – the one of Ronald Reagan even suffered a lightning strike.

Couple taking a picture in front of the busts from Presidents Park
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Aerial view of the busts from Presidents Park
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Back of the bust of George Washington
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

In September 2010, the park shut down due to low attendance. For two years, the busts sat abandoned, falling further into disrepair.

A possible revival for Presidents Park?

In September 2012, the park was auctioned off by creditors and later became home to a car rental company. As for the busts, they were saved by local concrete recycler Howard Hankins, after he was contracted by Newman to crush them. Not wanting to destroy the pieces, Hankins instead decided to store them at his 400-acre farm, just 10 miles from Presidents Park’s original location.

Bust of Abraham Lincoln at dusk
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Front view of the busts from Presidents Park
Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Close up of the bust of George Washington
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

The move cost $50,000 and wasn’t without issues. Holes had to be made in the tops of each bust, so they could be picked up by cranes, and other holes were made by crews looking for other ways to move them. Once lifted off the ground, many suffered cracked necks, along with scraped chins and broken noses.

Busts from Presidents Park sitting by muddy water
Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Side view of the busts of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Close up of the busts from Presidents Park
Photo Credit: Matt McClain / The Washington Post / Getty Images

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At present, all the busts from Presidents Park sit deteriorating in Hankins’ field. He hopes to one day fulfill the goal of the original park and expand it to include other attractions. These include presidential and first lady memorabilia, a life-sized model of the Oval Office, a fuselage from Air Force One and an area dedicated to the Secret Service.

As for Adickes, he created a similar attraction in South Dakota – this too ended up closing down.