Benson’s Wild Animal Farm

Hudson, New Hampshire
The remnants of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm in Hudson, New Hampshire give visitors a glimpse into a famous former exotic animal zoo.
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About This Location

Nestled in the quaint town of Hudson, New Hampshire, the remnants of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm evoke a bittersweet nostalgia, a forgotten era where exotic animals roamed and laughter filled the air. Established in 1924 by John Benson, this former zoo and amusement park was more than just a local attraction; it was a vivid tapestry of history, entertainment, and nature, interwoven with the stories of countless visitors and inhabitants.

The Rise of a Unique Attraction

Benson’s Wild Animal Farm opened to the public in 1926, following Benson’s purchase of the land in 1924. Initially conceptualized as an animal-training center, it quickly evolved into a multifaceted park, complete with animal exhibits, a miniature train, and various games. This transformation marked Benson’s Wild Animal Farm as a pioneering institution in animal entertainment and education.

The park’s expansion in the 1930s, including the addition of a permanent Wild Animal Circus, elevated its status. The introduction of the “Jungle Train” service from Boston to Hudson, which included admission to Benson’s, made it a sought-after destination. The park could accommodate thousands of cars in its parking lot by 1934, reflecting its growing popularity.

The Heart of the Park: The Animals and Attractions

The soul of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm resided in its diverse collection of animals. Trained lions, various species of bears, llamas, a gorilla named Colossus, elephants, monkeys, and a plethora of birds were some of the main attractions. Colossus, one of the largest gorillas ever held in captivity, became an iconic figure at the park, even humorously running for president in the New Hampshire primary as a publicity stunt.

The park’s infrastructure included the Elephant House, Gorilla House, and the whimsical Old Woman’s Shoe, based on the nursery rhyme. These structures, along with the mini train and circus, created an immersive experience for visitors, taking them on a journey through different worlds.

Decline and Closure

Despite its initial success, Benson’s faced challenges in the 1960s, leading to a decline in maintenance and attendance. After changing ownership several times, the park finally shuttered in 1987. The transition to “New England’s Playworld Amusement Park and Zoo” in its final year, complete with a Mighty Mouse statue, failed to revive its fortunes.

Preservation and Transformation

Despite being forgotten about for decades, the abandoned park did not meet the wrecking ball. Instead, it was reimagined and reborn as a public park in May 2010. Named Benson Park, this 166-acre space now serves as a passive recreational area, blending its historic past with the present. The park’s maintenance, handled by the Department of Public Works and a group of dedicated volunteers, ensures that its legacy endures.

Benson Park Today: A Window to the Past

Today, Benson Park stands as a serene oasis, inviting visitors to wander through its well-maintained paths, offering a glimpse into its storied past. The park, open daily with seasonal closing times, is a testament to the community’s commitment to preserving history while adapting to contemporary needs.

Rediscovering History

Walking through Benson Park, one can’t help but feel a sense of connection to the past. The Elephant House, Gorilla House, and the iconic Old Woman’s Shoe have been restored, showcasing the park’s unique history. Visitors can explore these structures, imagining the sights and sounds of a bygone era.

The park also features informative plaques, providing historical context and photographs of former attractions like the lagoon, RC cars, and fountains. These elements create an interactive historical experience, bridging the gap between past and present.

A Sanctuary for Nature and Recreation

In addition to its historical significance, Benson Park has evolved into a sanctuary for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The park’s transformation includes the development of trails and picnic areas, making it an ideal spot for family outings, hiking, and nature observation.

The park’s diverse flora and fauna add to its charm, offering a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The mix of open fields, wooded areas, and water features create a diverse ecosystem, supporting a variety of wildlife.

Location

Address: 27 Kimball Hill Rd, Hudson, New Hampshire
Place GPS Coordinates: 42.768417, -71.401861
Parking GPS Coordinates: 42.768417, -71.401861
Parking Notes: Parking can be found in a large lot right off Kimball Hill Road at the entrance to Benson Park. Parking is free, but does get busy on weekends and nice days.

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