March 2012 - Gus Basford and the Jacksonville Zoo
Jacksonville Zoo History 1914-2014
Featured March 2012
Alan F. Rost, Biological Programs Registrar and unofficial Zoo historian
Gus Basford and the Jacksonville Zoo (1955-1958)
Gus A. Basford was the Zoo Superintendent from 1955 to 1958 and was at the helm when the Municipal Zoo was established as an independent city department on June 30, 1955. In August 1955 plans were underway to make the zoo self-sustaining. Attendance reached 492,000 in 1955.
On April 28, 1956 the Zoo’s first miniature railroad debuted, and on June 21, 1956 the Zoo’s “Showboat Ride” opened in the Trout River. The Showboat Ride was a small-scale replica of an old Mississippi River showboat, complete with paddle wheel. The Zoo was recognized as “North Florida’s Outstanding Tourist Attraction” in a Florida Times-Union article date August 8, 1956. In December 1956 the Zoo launched its first advertising campaign.
By August 1956 the Zoo was boasting in a Florida Times-Union article about some 1,000 animal exhibits, the Showboat Ride, miniature train, carousel, plane-swing ride, live-pony merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, and a new and modern refreshment stand. The Zoo was open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset with no admission charge to the zoo or any charge for viewing any of the exhibits.
There were several new buildings/exhibits built at the Zoo during 1955-58 that lasted until the 1990s. These included “Monkey Island”, a restaurant, and the Giraffe House and the Reptile Houses built in 1957.
During this period the animal collection began to become more exotic. Some of the new species included a female Bengal Tiger from India in 1956, a male Giraffe, two California Sea Lions, a pair of Polar Bears from Greenland in 1957, our first recorded Jaguar and three Cuban Crocodiles in 1958.