JAMES CITY COUNTY, Va. — Tucked away on a 600-acre tract of land in James City County off Croaker Road are 42 huge presidential busts that are poised for new life.
Local businessman Howard Hankins now owns them.
"You look around at these guys, it's almost like they're alive. Every one of em's got a different story and contributed to a different era of our history," explained Hankins.
At one time, they were part of a tourist attraction at President's Park in Williamsburg, which opened in March 2004 and closed down just six years later.
"I built the original park — park went under and I guess cause I was the original guy out there doing site work, they called me up and wanted to know if I'd crush them," said Hankins. "So I went down and looked at them and I just, you know, how can you destroy these things?"
Hankins, who chose not to destroy them, owns a commercial construction recycling business. He had these heads of state trucked to his James City County property.
The years have not been kind to our presidents, with the wear and tear more obvious on some than on others.
"The weather's getting to them, that's why we gotta do the repair work," said Hankins.
But he suspects there might be other reasons for some of the damage.
Hankins has had issues with people sneaking onto the property.
"Oh constantly! Yeah we put cameras out now, pretty much we've had to start calling the police," said Hankins. "I've had them hanging off the glasses, climbing on them. All day long on the weekend, couples will drive in. I mean you get every excuse on earth: 'Can I get married out here? I wanted to scope it out.'"
Hankins says it's hard to say how often people were sneaking in.
"Well you don't know cause you don't catch them all, we were catching them a lot," said Hankins.
In fact, while we were doing interviews for this story, we got word someone was trying to sneak in, according to Alyce Hancock who is handling planning and marketing.
"We just caught somebody trying to come in — somebody just tried to plow through the front and come back here. They flew past us," said Hancock.
But Hancock says employees were able to stop and confront them. She said the people wanted to see the presidential heads.
Hancock noted that plans to allow the public to access the presidential heads are underway. She says they've been working with James City County planning officials.
"I said 'Tell me what you want and I will design to your standard.' They wanted things, benefits, for the community— A winery, a brewery, event space, a safe place for families to come and enjoy. So, there will be horse trails through here, jogging trails, a modern equestrian center and then an amphitheater — a 3,000 seat amphitheater," said Hancock.
She says the response from James City County has been very positive.
The proposed plans also call for protecting the presidential busts.
"And because of the security issues with the heads, I made sure they're enclosed," said Hancock.
However, there are no plans for a makeover of the heads.
"We're gonna preserve the look they've got right now and try to keep them from deteriorating further," Hancock explains. "There's a Japanese art called Kintsugi, which [promotes the concept that] something broken is much more valuable than what was originally made and that's what's happened with these heads. We're looking at them not as just a historical piece of Americana, but as an art collective. So, we're preserving them as ruins."
Hancock says they anticipate more meetings with James City County officials in the days to come, adding that if this gets the green light, a project of this size will be phased in over a three-year period. However, something might be happening sooner if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of the presidential busts.
"Well, the heads tours will resume probably mid-spring," said Hancock.
The specific details are still being ironed out, but soon you should be able to see the 18 to 20-foot busts from George Washington all the way up to George W. Bush.