Categories: Belief, CT AT Work: Waterbury Area, Popular Culture, Waterbury
Waterbury’s Holy Land
Holy Land USA is a closed Waterbury theme park that celebrated the story of the Bible. Made conspicuous by the 52-foot cross overlooking Interstate 84, the park once attracted tens of thousands of visitors every year to the Waterbury area. After decades of neglect, the park, begun by Catholic activist John Greco in 1956, is now a mere shell of its former self.
Greco was a Waterbury native and first-generation Italian American who studied to become a priest at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, before graduating from Yale Law School and entering the legal profession. In the 1930s, he founded the Connecticut chapter of the Catholic Campaigners for Christ and, in 1956, decided to take his message to the public through the creation of a religious theme park.
Greco began spending his free time up on Pine Hill, where he and other volunteers built more than 100 buildings to recreate a Biblical vision of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The plywood and plaster structures depicted such sites as Herod’s Temple and the manger where Christ was born. To complement the buildings, Greco added yellow-painted golden calves, a cast-metal Christ on a cross, an exhibit on the Holy Shroud of Turin, and catacombs extending underground for 200 feet. Representations of Biblical figures and Catholic saints consisted of everything from high-quality European statues to old plastic mannequins.
Holy Land USA Closes but Nostalgia for Park Remains Strong
During the height of its popularity, Holy Land USA attracted over 40,000 visitors per year. Greco, who lived on the property, welcomed guests as he preached God’s love through a megaphone and led visitors through the various attractions.
As Greco’s health deteriorated in the 1980s, Holy Land USA fell into disrepair and Greco closed the attraction in 1984. Upon his death in 1986, having found no one willing to maintain the park, Greco left the property to the Religious Teachers Filippini. Weather and vandalism continued to take their toll, however.
Numerous efforts to revitalize the park came and went without success, including attempts developed by Hartford Archbishop John Whealon in the 1980s and the local Knights of Columbus in 2000. Today, while Holy Land USA remains a spiritual place for many, the dilapidated remains of the park only hint at the pomp and popularity it maintained through much of the mid-20th century.