Benson Park

Before I realized you could actually enter the cage...
January 1, 2012 — January 1st is usually a day for recovery, and it should have been for us. Instead, we found ourselves staring through the bars of a gorilla cage that had been empty for at least a quarter of a century.

Benson Park at 27 Kimball Hill Road in Hudson, NH, used to have a much more exotic name: Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. Established in the mid-1920s by a man named John Benson, the farm was a large zoo that eventually expanded into a circus and amusement park, as well.

The 165-acre estate was packed with elephants, alligators, gorillas, giraffes, and all kinds of other creatures one would never expect to find in a place like New Hampshire, in addition to rides and other attractions.

Sign says "Bear Area."
After Benson’s death in 1943, ownership of the enterprise transferred a few times until the zoo was finally shut down in 1987. Over the past few decades it was abandoned to the forces of nature and vandalism, and if these Flickr images are any indication, it rotted splendidly.

However, in the past couple of years, the town of Hudson bought the property, cleaned it up, restored it, and turned it into a pretty amazing public park. Short hiking trails wander through a quickly changing landscape of marsh, field, and forest originally landscaped to hold a variety of transplanted species. Multiple ponds dot the park as well, and it features a large children’s playground and a 9/11 memorial that incorporates a beam from the destroyed World Trade Center.

Various structures still remain from its previous life as a zoo, including a gorilla cage that held a 500-pound silverback named Colossus, the Elephant Barn, the ticket booth, an eating pavilion, a building shaped like a giant shoe from a fairy-tale-themed area, and more. The buildings and sections of the park are all labeled with short histories and pictures, and the aforementioned ticket booth has been turned into an information kiosk.

Honestly, the experience was a bit of a reprimand for us. We’ve lived within five miles of this place for about five years, and we just never got around to visiting it. That’s dumb for two reasons. We should have been making use of this park regularly over the past year or so that it’s been open. Simply put, few public parks are this interesting. And, of course, I wish that I’d have explored it in its previous dilapidated state, as well.

But as much as I would’ve loved this article to be about an abandoned zoo, I have to say it’ a really cool thing the town of Hudson has done with this unique bit of land.