Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Farmington, Connecticut

Shade Swamp Sanctuary

An abandoned Depression-era zoo hidden just off the highway. 

Given a long enough timeline, nature will swallow most anything up, and such was the fate of an abandoned small zoo just off U.S. Route 6 in Connecticut. Now people drive by every day without knowing the remnants of a Depression-era menagerie are peeking out from the overgrowth surrounding the road.

The little “zoo” was part of an 800-acre preserve called Shade Swamp Sanctuary, which started out as a wildlife rehabilitation center in the 1930s. Injured animals were cared for and released back into the wild. It housed birds, wolves, bears, and many other animals. Known to many as the “Farmington Zoo, it also featured a breeding program for critters like raccoons and rabbits that were commonly hunted off the busy highway during the Great Depression.

Shade Swamp’s reputation as a zoo spread, and soon people were bringing in exotic pets they didn’t want to care for anymore: monkeys, an alligator, and even a baby giraffe from a stranded carnival. The breeding program ended soon after the Depression, and the sanctuary was later abandoned in the 1960s after U.S. Route 84 took most of Route 6’s traffic.

A wooden shelter in the sanctuary was built in 1934 by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s thanks to this artifact that the area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now one of two trails runs from Route 6 to the deserted shelter and empty cages.

Know Before You Go

Don’t use a GPS to find the trail entrance. You can put Shade Swamp into your GPS and it will get you to the area, but it won’t get you to the trail entrance. The trail entrance is off of Rt. 6 in Farmington CT. It is between Hyde Rd and New Britain Ave.

There is a small parking area. Next to the parking area there is the CCC wooden Shelter. You will see a wooden sign that says Shade Swamp Sanctuary Blue Trail. The trail is very narrow and a little overgrown. You can access it between the sign and the shelter straight back. It is a very easy walk to get to the abandoned cages. It will take less than 5 minutes. If you want to do the full blue trail it is confusing and has many side trails you can get lost on. The trail is about 1.3 miles. If you do decide to do the trail, once you get up the hill and come back around the bottom of the hill go back the path you came instead of going on the other path.

This is a swamp, so the best time to go is in the fall when the weather is a bit chilly and the mosquitos die off. If you go in the spring or summer the mosquitos reign supreme and you will be eaten alive.