Good Ole Days: Remembering Benson’s Wild Animal Farm

This week, during a visit with my kids, my father-in-law talked about the great memories he had from Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. Obviously, Andrew and Will had no clue what he was talking about, but he brought up a spot I haven’t thought about in over 25 years. It got me thinking…what ever happened to this place?

Kids these days may only know about Benson’s Animal Farm from Dane Cook…he does some great standup about wanting to always go there as a kid, but his dad would blow him off, saying that “Benson’s isn’t going anywhere!” (check out the link, it’s pretty funny).

But in the fall of 1987, Benson’s shut it’s doors for goods after 60 years of operation. Known as the “Strangest Farm on Earth,” this park in Hudson, New Hampshire boasted over 100 animal exhibits and 50 rides and attractions. Founded by animal trainer John T. Benson, a big game hunting friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, the 168-acre park started as a first-stop for many exotic animals dropped off in the United States. Here, they would be quarantined and trained before being shipped off to circuses or zoos around the country.  Quickly, the place began to draw thousands of visitors, becoming a popular tourist destination for many people north of Boston.

I remember going to this place a bunch as a kid with my grandparents, mother and sister. The giraffes and llamas stood out – and I’m pretty sure that their lady bug ride was one of the first rollers coasters I ever rode on. Everywhere you went as a kid, I remember seeing Benson’s billboards all over the highways. Dyed rabbit feet were a signature souvenir from the farm. They also had Mighty Mouse and a big-ass plastic cowboy on the grounds that scared the crap out of me.

Benson’s ultimately closed due to “high insurance liability costs, high animal feed costs, and high interest rates to pay for the newest and latest rides for increasingly fickle teens,” according to NH Magazine’s Darren Garnick. They also had to pay high licensing costs for Terrytoon characters Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle. This was a major departure from competitors such as Canobie Lake and StoryLand – who focused on a more cost-effective strategy of targeting younger families with classic rides and fewer animals to house and feed.

After many years of severe neglect and deterioration, the Town of Hudson has decided to take a number of steps to reactivate the property. They have restored parts of the park and have turned it into passive recreational space with trails and fishing. Plans are underway to create a dog-walking park, two playgrounds and a butterfly garden. There is also a map of the park available online if you would like to hike around the park.

Unfortunately for Dane Cook and many other younger kids and adults, Benson’s Animal Farm may no longer exist like it did during it’s a heyday, but there are plenty of activities to chose from if you’re looking for a family outing. If you have any memories or pictures to share, please leave them in the comment section below.



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