St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park began as a small attraction on May 20, 1893. From a beachside curiosity, this local destination grew into a Florida icon in only a few short decades. Today, the Alligator Farm continues to delight visitors while assisting scientists with research and conservation efforts. Let’s chomp into some of their story!
At the end of the 1800s, tourists flocked to St. Augustine Beach for the restorative powers of Florida’s waters – and entertainment. The Anastasia Island Tram carried vacationers across Matanzas Bay to destinations along the island. George Reddington and Felix Fire‘s collection of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) attracted the attention of these curious beach-goers. By 1910, the Alligator Farm exhibited hundreds of alligators, numerous species of snakes, and other animals. This earned them the reputation of “the world’s largest alligator farm.”
A series of natural disasters in the 1920s caused the Alligator Farm’s move to their current location at 999 Anastasia Boulevard. Here with 10-acres of land, the attraction continued to grow – expanding their reputation beyond alligators. The Alligator Farm acquired animals – such as ostriches, crocodiles, tortoises, and monkeys – from other alligator farms, zoos and museums.
After World War II, Americans hit the roads heading for sunny Florida vacations – which would not be complete without alligators. With increased success, education and entertainment operations began to evolve at the Alligator Farm. Their transformed mission aimed to inspire understanding and appreciation for the once frightening creatures. Growing exposure allowed the Farm to publicize the plight of the then endangered alligator, which came close to extinction in the 1960s and 1970s. (The American alligator first received Federal protection under law in 1967.)
Scientists from the University of Florida began conducting research on the Alligator Farm’s grounds and waters in the 1970s. Dr. Elliot Jacobson of the University’s School of Veterinary Science and Dr. Walter Auffenberg of the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville made intensive scientific studies of alligators. Dr. Kent Vliet, whose research on the courtship habits of the alligator led to his thesis, became a virtual fixture at the facility.
In 1992, the Alligator Farm and the surrounding neighborhood became a designated U.S. Historic District – referred to as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Historic District. The following year, the Alligator Farm became the only place in the world with all 24 species of crocodilians. Still welcoming visitors today, make sure to stop by this 128-year-old attraction on your next road trip down U.S. Highway A1A.