A popular zoo operating from 1927-1987, Benson’s Wild Animal Farm once had elephants, lions, and a particularly large gorilla named Tony who sometimes went by the name of “Colossus.”
Founded in 1924 by animal trainer John Benson first as a center for his profession and only secondarily as an entertainment device for the public in 1926, Benson quickly found that installing a “permanent circus” made his zoo more profitable. Among the Farm’s biggest stars was a huge silverback gorilla named Tony, aka Colossus, who was not only thought to be the largest gorilla ever kept in captivity, but also once ran for President of the United States.
Despite changing ownership several times and decades of financial struggle, the park finally shuttered in 1987. Abandoned after its closure, the spot had always been a favorite for explorers and adventures. Rather than demolish a site that had been home to generations of memories for so many, the city of Hudson, New Hampshire saw fit to repurpose the park’s 165 acres of scenic land and other attractions into a new, usable form.
The Farm was re-opened as a public park in May 2010 under the new name of Benson’s Park. Access to abandoned animal cages – such as the Elephant Barn and Gorilla House – and other attractions like a miniature railroad remain open to the public in its new incarnation, even as others are still being repaired. A huge model of the shoe from “The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe” still sits near the park entrance, as a miniature railroad unites the park’s disparate corners.
While it seems that spending unsupervised time in abandoned animal cages would be one of the most jarring ways to pass a weekend, the juxtaposition of these features paired with a September 11th Memorial, complete with a girder from the Pentagon, really pushes the experience of visiting the former site of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm over the top.