The creation of John Baptist Greco, situated on Pine Hill in Waterbury, Connecticut, Holy Land U.S.A. was a place for education of the Bible and the life of Christ. It was not a shrine or a place of worship. It was dedicated in 1958 as “Bethlehem Village” and later became Holy Land U.S.A. The vision of a local Waterbury lawyer named John Greco and built with the help of Waterbury Italian volunteers, Holy Land was a tourist destination for years, sometimes drawing 44,000 visitors per year.
I lived in Connecticut for most of my first 33 years, and when I was young, in the 1970’s, my father brought me to Holy Land U.S.A. I have some VERY vague memories of Holy Land, just mainly just an image of it being on a hill (quite a climb for a youngster!), and the miniature buildings. But the best memory is just being with my father and having him share Bible stories with me as I explored the tiny buildings.
The park was open until 1984, two years prior to John Greco’s death. It had been declining in the years prior to his death, and afterward quickly spiraled downhill, the victim of neglect, weather, and vandals. Despite numerous efforts to raise funds to restore Holy Land, none have been successful. Sadly, Holy Land U.S.A. is currently in a very bad state of disrepair and the area surrounding it is pretty bad. I thought about it recently (now that I live in the Midwest) and realized I had not given Holy Land U.S.A. a second thought at all while I lived there, despite having been by there a thousand times. During a trip back to Connecticut in 2005, I thought I’d go to see it after all these years, and see if I could take some photos.
However, what was really exciting, was when I returned to Indiana – what I was to find in the huge box of slides my mom brought back from Connecticut during her trip about a month before mine. The slides were taken by her uncle, Donald Lucian, back in the 50’s and 60’s, and among them were some photos of Holy Land U.S.A. when it was new, and some during its construction! I hadn’t found ANY photos on the Internet of Holy Land U.S.A. back in its heyday, so I added scans of the slides for your enjoyment…it is nice to see Holy Land U.S.A. depicted as it was new, not as decrepit ruins.
In 2006, I again returned to visit and take more photos. I thought that Holy Land might make a good subject for AMERICAN ROAD Magazine, dedicated to America’s two lane roads and US highways. Thomas Repp, owner / editor, agreed and gave me the go-ahead to proceed with my first feature article. That article was published in AMERICAN ROAD’s Autumn 2008 issue. Click here for a link to the article.
In 2008, the 56-foot tall illuminated Peace Cross was replaced with a new stainless steel cross (perhaps harkening back to the original Cross?). I headed back to Connecticut at the end of August 2008 and visited Holy Land again, and added a photo of the new cross.
UPDATE – AUGUST 2011: Holy Land USA is currently for sale. Click here for a story by Connecticut news station WFSB (with video).
I also have some postcards of Holy Land, courtesy of Ron Guerrera of Mattatuck Antiques & Collectibles in Waterbury. Ron was kind enough to allow me to photograph the postcards (I didn’t bring a scanner with me on the trip!).
Here are a few photos of Holy Land U.S.A. “Now and Then.” For more photos, click the link to my Flickr site at the bottom of this post.
The entrance to Holy Land (postcard)
Herod’s Palace (Slide taken by my great-uncle Don)
“There came wise men from the East” – in the background, you can see Waterbury and the old Scovill factory. (Slide taken by my great-uncle Don)
In this photo, you cannot see through all the overgrowth.
Replica of Calvary (postcard)
The original “Peace Cross” atop Pine Hill – 1958 – 1968 (Slides taken by my great-uncle Don)
The 2nd Cross, which stood from 1968 – 2008
The 3rd Cross – 2008
For many more photos and postcards of Holy Land U.S.A., click here to visit my Flickr site: Holy Land U.S.A. – Waterbury, Connecticut
Also, here are some links to other sites or photo galleries about Holy Land U.S.A.
- Holy Land USA at Roadside America
- Holy Land USA
- Holy Land
- A Photo Study of Holy Land USA
- Holy Land USA – Institute of Urban Speleologic Studies & Archeology
- Onward Christian Tourists
- Holy Land U.S.A. at This is Connecticut
- Holy Land photos by Shaun O’Boyle
- Holy Land – Fallout Urban Explorer
- The Holiest Land at Connecticut Museum Quest
- Holy Land USA at CreepyConnecticut
- Holy Land USA – TonyLembo.com
Here are a couple of videos from You Tube about Holy Land