Presidents Park

Twenty-foot-tall sculptures of forty three presidents, decaying in a field in Virginia: this is Presidents Park. Once part of a stately and serene educational park in Williamsburg, these busts now decay in the elements.

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David Adickes and the Idea for Presidents Park

David Adickes has big ideas. Literally. He’s created some of the largest sculptures in America, such as the 67-foot tall “Tribute to Courage” statue of Sam Adams, currently standing in Huntsville, Texas. But he’s also known for projects on a, shall we say, more presidential scale.

Inspiration came to Adickes when he stopped at Mount Rushmore during a road trip in the early 90s. “I was overwhelmed by the majesty of it,” he told the Washington Post in 2011. “But I was disappointed that I couldn’t get up close to them, and look them in the eye.”

“[…]the idea occurred to me to do a park with all the presidents, big enough to get in front of and look in the eyes, rather than from a quarter-mile away.”  

“I’m a Texan. Big is impressive.”

Finding Presidents Park

Adickes searched for partners and investors for this new idea he called “Presidents Park”. He wanted to locate the sculptures in DC, but had a hard time finding buyers. He finally found someone, with Williamsburg entrepreneur, Everette Haley Newman. Along with Newman and other investors, over $10 million dollars were secured for the park.

Even with the necessary capital coming in, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the new park. Public opposition arose after the park was first proposed in the late 90s. The initial plans called for a full set of presidents, including a 75-foot statue of George Washington. Officials (from Colonial Williamsburg, the National Park Service, and the York County Board of Supervisors), historians, and even the local papers didn’t like the idea.

Some called it “just plain garish”, feeling that it didn’t fit the colonial emphasis of Williamsburg. The town easily mixes the colonial past with its more modern side, but this was a step too far – they thought it was just a cheap roadside attraction.

The 75-foot-statue idea was canned, but York County officials still required expensive special-use zoning permits for the park site. Adickes and Newman took the county to court over the zoning permits.

Court Battle in Williamsburg

During this time, sculptures started arriving (as early as 2000). They lingered on trailers around town and country while Adickes and Newman were still battling with the locals over permits. Some even ended up temporarily at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Now, while this was stuck in the courts, Adickes was so enamored with the idea that he began work on a second Presidents Park in Lead, South Dakota. Due to the legal battle in Williamsburg, the South Dakota park actually opened first, in 2002, just 40 miles from the inspiration, Mount Rushmore, on the property in the Black Hills owned by Adickes himself. The park covered two acres of a sloping hillside, and visitors were often surrounded by wild turkeys as they perused the sculptures.

Finally, after four years, Adickes and Newman won their legal battle. Eventually the site qualified for museum status in York County, and the park was allowed to open.

Presidents Park in Williamsburg, VA

In February 2004, the Williamsburg location of the Presidents Park finally opened, adjacent to I-64 and convenient to other Williamsburg retail. Cost was $9.75 for adults, $6.50 for children 6-17, and $8.75 for seniors and veterans. The site offered self-guided tours as a part of the admissions fee, including signs for “14 Defining Moments in American History”.  Visitors could stroll along the winding paths over the ten acre sculpture park, taking in trivia about each of the presidents while looking the 42 statues in the eye. For additional fe es, guided tours and educational materials were available. There was, of course, a gift shop.

Official response to the park was tepid. “We are a nation that is sorely in need of more aggressive enlightenment on our own nation’s history, and to the extent Presidents Park helps do that, we certainly commend them for it,” said Tim Andrews, spokesman for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Walter C. Zaremba, a member of the York County Board of Supervisors, simply said: “There is resigned acceptance of it.”

But visitors enjoyed the park, with exit surveys being “over 90% glowing”.

You can still purchase a used guidebook from the former park.

Sculpting the Presidents Busts

Each sculpture was made from a mold. Busts were first sculpted out of clay (18-20 ft tall), from which molds were created. Concrete filled the molds to create the final sculptures, supported with steel rebar. Each took six weeks to complete, and the whole set took over five years; each sculpture was appraised at $100,000.

Some presidents were more of a challenge than others, with Gerald Ford’s features and Bill Clinton’s hair reportedly being difficult to recreate. George HW Bush was reportedly Adickes’ favorite, and posed for the sculpture.

Downfall of Presidents Park

Despite the impressive sculptures and the positive responses from visitors, the park quickly started suffering. The location was convenient to major areas, but was masked by the woods and a hotel, standing essentially invisible from the rest of the Williamsburg tourist traffic. The economy at the time was sluggish, and the site just couldn’t draw the people away from the rest of historical Williamsburg. The investor group bankrolling the park was changing, with one of the members wanting their cash out.

After only three years, in 2007, Newman had listed the site for sale, busts included, for an asking price of $4.5 million.

After one year, there had been no buyers.

Busts began to fall into despair. Sun, wind, rain, birds…they all took their toll. A lightning strike hit Ronald Regan, marring his concrete visage.

The park continued to lose money. Newman and Adickes couldn’t afford to create a new bust for President Obama, estimated at $600,000 at the time, and the recession had hit tourism hard.

Finally, the park closed in September 2010, after six years and 350 thousand visitors.

The park sat abandoned for two years. (Here’s a video of the abandoned Williamsburg park in 2011.)

The loan was defaulted on, and the bank foreclosed on the property. An auction was set for April 2012, but was canceled for undisclosed reasons; a second auction in September 2012 again failed to attract notice. Officials grumbled, with Walt Zaremba, the early voice of opposition, saying “it’s sad that so much energy and investment dollars went into that” and “Lord know what’s next”.

A New Home for Presidents

Enter Howard Hankins.

Howard Hankins

Hankins was a local builder, owner of the several businesses, including a local concrete recycler. Hankins had assisted in the construction of Presidents Park back in the early 2000s.

With the property finally sold to an undisclosed buyer, NOT including the busts, Newman reached out to Hankins in fall of 2012, for help disposing of the presidential sculptures. Hankins balked at the idea. He reminisced in a 2015 interview, saying “They called me and wanted to know if I would come down there and crush [the heads] and haul them away,” “I said ‘heck no, can I have ‘em?’ I’m going to preserve them.” “I just feel it was very educational,” Hankins said of Presidents Park, speaking to the Daily Press. “To destroy that stuff didn’t look right to me.”

Moving the Presidents

It wasn’t an easy prospect. The sculptures are made out of concrete, remember, and each weighed between 15 and 20 thousand pounds. The sculptures sat on platforms, from which they had to be lifted. Holes were smashed in each of the president’s heads and necks in order to expose the interior steel rebar, and then excavators, forklifts, and cranes helped move the sculptures onto flatbed trucks. The sculptures had to be rocked to remove them from the pedestals, and this caused damage at the necks.

Height was a problem too, as the sculptures had been delivered as separate head and neck pieces. Overpasses on the ten miles between the site and Hankins’ farm had to be carefully measured.

The first sculptures to be moved suffered the most damage, unsurprisingly, with the Hankins’ team’s inexperience. There are broken noses. Some sculptures have entire backs exposed. Abraham Lincoln’s sculpture is missing most of the back of its head, eerily calling back his manner of death.

The entire move took the better part of a week, and is said to have cost around $50 thousand, which Hankins paid himself.

At Home with the Presidents

The sculptures were driven to Hankins’ property in Croaker, VA. George Washington was set to the side in a place of honor, overlooking the rest of the group; Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln among the handful of others arrayed near him. The rest were placed in no apparent order into a handful of lines,making for strange pairings: JFK next to Reagan, Dubya (now with a large chip taken out of his cheek) sits next to Teddy Roosevelt.

And then they sat.

And sat.

And sat.


Nature began to take its course, with the heavy sculptures sinking into the mud. Weeds grew up around their bases, and the natural elements continued to mar the surfaces of each president’s bust.

Explorers and interviewers described the sculptures as weighty and beautiful, a modern Easter Island. Faux tears have formed on faces from the discoloration of the rainwater.

Hornets and other insects have made nests in the presidents’ nostrils.

Paint has peeled and cracked from the surfaces of the busts due to the constant moisture and condensation.

Some of the sculptures look horrified, as if by the state of the world or perhaps by their own personal state of disarray.

Small trees and shrubs have begun to grow in front of Teddy Roosevelt.

Where the interior structure of the sculptures is visible through broken and cracked concrete is now rusted and ruinous.

Media Attention

Hankins originally had hoped to allow visitors to his property, now under the name Hampton Roads Materials LLC. However, it became an expensive proposition, requiring him to carry hefty liability insurance. Trespassers regularly visited, despite fencing and other security measures on his private property.

In 2015 or 2016, photos began to be posted on social media, renewing interest in the location. Media came in droves for interviews and photos. Many of the interviews and articles online are from this time period, including an 8 minute National Geographic special.

The sculptures can even be seen by satellite using Google Maps.

Where in the World are the Presidential Busts?

What about the South Dakota park that opened in 2003, a year before the Virginia park? Adickes said after the fact that the location was a mistake, with too much snow in the area, making the park’s open time too short. Although the park was featured on the cover of the final LIFE magazine (April 20, 2007: “21 places you’ve got to see to believe”), the park closed in 2010. Reviews were mixed, with reports of it being both “interesting” and “an eyesore”.   

Adickes reportedly still owns the property but has begun to sell off the sculptures there to relevant communities. For instance, Andrew Jackson’s bust is now in Jackson, MS; Eisenhower is in Dennison, TX (explain why). Others are more generically placed, at least as of 2015: JFK, Reagan, and Dubya at the Southern Hills RV Park in Hermosa, SD; Lincoln at the Lincoln RV Park near Williston, ND; and Teddy Roosevelt at the Roosevelt Inn in Watford City, ND.

And in case you thought there weren’t enough giant presidents heads sitting around, for several years, there were also a handful of busts in Pearland, TX (at a planned development that fell through; now in storage), as well as “Mount Rush Hour”, a rotating selection of Adickes’ heads just off the I-45 in Houston, TX. He made great use of those molds.

The former grounds of the Presidents Park in Williamsburg are now an Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

A Sculptor’s Work

Long after the sculptures in Williamsburg had been moved, David Adickes found out about the relocation. A friend forwarded him a story from the media blitz in 2016. “I was totally shocked and disappointed that they had been raped,” he says. “I was pissed off and devastated and sad and all the rest. But there’s nothing I could do about it at this point.”

No one had ever thought to reach out to Adickes to inform him about the state of the sculptures or ask for advice on moving them. “I don’t even like to look at the photographs,” Adickes stated, “because I can see they’re damaged in other ways. Now they look like a graveyard of our greatest heroes, of our American presidents. That’s sad to see.”

Adickes is currently 92 years old and is still producing sculptures on a massive scale. Many are on display in Houston, TX.

Updates for the Presidents

In February 2019, journal Tom Schaad of WAVY TV teased a story about potential new sites for the busts, but no further news on the sculptures’ relocation has been made available at the time of this recording.

In early 2019, Hankins partnered with photographer John Plashal. Together, they set up ticketed events that dovetail both Hankins’ and Plashal’s interests. Plashal is an author/photographer who recently published a photo history titled “a beautifully broken virginia”. These events feature a slideshow and lecture, followed by a walking tour of the sculptures on Hankins’ property. Plashal has several tours scheduled through the rest of spring 2019 for the “Presidents Heads” as he refers to them, including twilight and evening tours for the urbex and photography enthusiasts.

The events sell out quickly.

Hankins and the Presidential Experience

Hankins saved items from the visitor’s center when he moved the busts in 2012, as well. A shipping container sits in the field by the sculptures, storing replicas of first lady dresses, a small model of the bust intended for Barack Obama, and parts from replica Air Force Ones and a presidential limousine. He plans to have a larger, more encompassing “Presidential Experience”, including a replica of the White House, and has a goal to restore the sculptures from their current state of decay. However, funding and site locations have been hard to come by. In a March 2019 article, Hankins sounded optimistic about future locations but was light on the details.

In April 2019, the small bust of President Obama was stolen from the shipping container storing the smaller items recovered from the park, but was quickly returned. Hankins was interviewed for the local paper, and said he has a deal in the works to move the presidents north. “I can’t say when and where just yet, but the guy who is running the project really wants them,” Hankins said. “We’ll make a big announcement when the deal goes through and then start fundraising to pay to get them moved up there.”

At the time of this recording, Hankins’ Gofundme for the hopeful Presidential Experience project has 0.2% funded of the half million dollar goal, though some articles put the total funds required at 1.5M.

For now, the presidents sit, slowly decaying, grouped in lines overlooking the countryside off I-64, and somewhere in the tree of the Black Hills in South Dakota, and across a handful of RV parks too.

Remember that what you’ve read is a podcast! A link is included at the top of the page. Listen to more episodes of The Abandoned Carousel on your favorite platform: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RadioPublic | TuneIn | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Castro. Support the podcast on Patreon for extra content! Comment below to share your thoughts – as Lucy Maud Montgomery once said, nothing is ever really lost to us, as long as we remember it.


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