When Euro Disneyland was in the design phase, Frontierland was one of the land selected and, the decision to have a global storyline taken. Taking inspiration from Thunder Mesa, which was a project slated for Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, designed by legendary Imagineer Marc Davis. Marc Davis liked to incorporate sight gags with silly humor along with stories that liked to evoke itself subtly, and he created the town of Thunder Mesa as the setting for his Frontierland expansion. Outside Thunder Mesa, guests would have experienced a Mine Train roller coaster along with a log flume water ride. Inside, guests would have experienced the Western River Expedition, best described as the western version of the famed Pirates of the Caribbean. One vital part of the Expedition was Dry Gulch, where the boat would float in the middle of a dusty desert town, complete with a shoot-out between the good guys and the bank robbers.
Thunder Mesa was replaced by a shortened version of Pirates of the Caribbean as the timeline was shorter to bring it to life. Legend also says that guests were asking where the Pirates were. The park did not feature any thrills when it opened, so plans to introduce things with an element of thrills were fast-tracked. Pirates of the Caribbean opened in 1973 and the largest expansion in the Magic Kingdom history, completion of Tomorrowland, was finished in 1975.
Good ideas remain in the vault of Walt Disney Imagineering and come to life later. In this case, Tony Baxter, who eventually brought both the ideas of the log flume (Splash Mountain) and mine train roller coaster (Big Thunder Mountain) to life took inspiration from Marc Davis Thunder Mesa to create his vision of a western town. Paying homage by using the name of Thunder Mesa, Tony Baxter created a land that would integrate his classic Big Thunder Mountain with a reimagined Haunted Mansion.
The story starts on Main Street, with a section of the Walt’s: An American Original restaurant themed outside and inside to Phantom Manor.
The story is this: Henry Ravenswood created the Big Thunder Mining Co. to mine a hill located in the middle of the Rivers of America. Tunnels were dug under the river to link the mine to the town, and it brought immense riches to Henry Ravenswood. Henry Ravenswood had a daughter, Melanie and they both lived in an impressive manor located to the south of the Rivers. Boot Hill was located further along the rivers and served as the graveyard for outlaws and desperados who had raised the ire of the residents.
J. Nutterville, the town’s Undertaker, had his shop in the area, and the Silver Spur Steakhouse was the town’s premier dining establishment. The Lucky Nugget Saloon nightly entertainment was hosted by Miss Diamond Lil, who had found a golden nugget the size of a loaf of bread along her travels.
Walking past Fort Comstock, which protects the town, guests walk past the Thunder Mesa Mercantile Building and arrive at the Fuente del Oro restaurant. Next, to the river, the Big Thunder Mining Co. mine cart depot is located. Further on, the sights start to get greener as the city transitions from a desert mine town to an agricultural boomtown. The Critter Corral, the Cowboy Cookout Barbecue (inside a converted barn) are all located here, serving as a discreet transition to Adventureland and it’s lush Indian jungle that house the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril roller coaster.
After rumors of a curse and tragic events during Melanie Ravenswood wedding reception at the manor, the town was abandoned, and this is when guests visit. The abandoned steam trains at Big Thunder Mountain have sprung back to life, seemingly driven by ghosts and providing an incredible thrill ride to curious passengers. The Steam Boats are back in business along with the various stores and restaurants alongside the river banks. The Ravenswood Manor is still abandoned, weathered along one side and the formerly tenderly tendered gardens overrun.