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Catskill, New York

Catskill Game Farm

The abandoned ruins of America's first private zoo are open for exploration in the Catskills. 

In the 1930s the Catskill Game Farm was a popular attraction in the small mountain town of Catskill, New York. At its peak it welcomed up to 500,000 visitors a year who came to get a glimpse of the zoo’s collection of exotic animals. However, in 2006, the fun ended with the park’s closure. Today, the site stands as an abandoned relic of a once-thriving zoo.

Founded by German immigrant Roland Lindemann, the park was originally a weekend getaway spot for Lindemann and his coworkers at his New York City business. Lindemann had purchased some land in the Catskill Mountains and stocked it with white-tailed deer, goats, and donkeys. His friends, and those who heard of the property by word of mouth, headed out to what was then called “Lindemann’s Deer Farm.”

Lindemann charged no admission in those early days, but as the popularity of the deer farm grew, he quit his day job, moved to the Catskills, and opened up the Catskill Game Farm in 1943. In 1958, the site was recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a zoo, becoming the first privately owned zoo in the nation.

With official zoo designation, Lindemann could begin importing more animals to the farm. He was able to bring in rare and endangered breeds, and according to the book Legendary Locals of Greene County, Lindemann “received the largest shipment of animals ever imported from Australia,” including kangaroos and parrots.

As the years went on, he collected other rare breeds like white rhinos and Przewalski horses (which a 1971 New York Times article noted were “already extinct in the wilds and exist only in captivity”). By the 1970s, the zoo had grown to roughly 1,000 acres (136 of those open to the public) with nearly 2,500 animals.

However, dwindling tourism rates over the years made it difficult for the zoo to continue operations and it was closed in 2006. Now renamed the Old Game Farm, the site is currently under new ownership and visitors are allowed to roam the property and explore the remains of the zoo. The new owners have also to revived the site as a campground, with plans for an inn and event space, and, of course, preservation of many of the Catskill Game Farm buildings.

Know Before You Go

Visitors are allowed to walk the property, however, reservations must be made in advance. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted. Visit http://www.theoldgamefarm.com/visit/ for reservation information.