The zoo was founded by John Benson in 1924 as an animal-training center, and was opened to the public in 1926 with animal exhibits, a miniature train, games and exhibits.
John Benson's career started at Lexington Park in Lexington, Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Although he was not the owner, he ran the amusement park, which was filled with all sorts of exotic animals, a theater, a women's resting building and other facilities. The women's resting house remains and is now a home. At the time trolleys took Bostonians from Massachusetts Avenue to Bedford Street and dropped them off at the park's entrance, located on the Lexington and Bedford town line. The park finally closed in 1921.
Benson then went to New Hampshire to open his own animal park. After opening to the public in 1926, Benson's was expanded in 1932-33 with the addition of a permanent Wild Animal Circus. A special "Jungle Train" ran from Boston to Hudson on Sundays, with admission to Benson's included in the ticket price. By 1934 the parking lot could accommodate 5,200 cars. In 1940 animal trainer Joe Arcaris began his association with the zoo, performing acts with lions and other animals till the late 1970s.
Benson died in 1943, and Boston Garden Corp. bought the property the next year. The park was closed to the public during WWII, and re-opened in 1945. Starting in the 1960s, it went into a period of decline in maintenance and attendance. It was sold in 1979 to Arthur Provencher, who reversed its decline for a while with an influx of money. Although many people tried to convince Arthur to develop the property into a large paved amusement park, he was determined to preserve its status as an animal farm, with its primary focus being the animals, and not amusement rides. His main interest was always the beauty of the animals, which had inspired him for most of his life. However, the farm remained unprofitable.
Toward the end of its existence as a zoo, it had a wide variety of animals, including trained lions, bears of several different species, llamas, a gorilla, elephants, monkeys, and many kinds of birds. With declining finances in the 1980s, the park added features to add family interest. After an unsuccessful association with outside investors, Provencher filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1985. In 1987, in a final effort to save the park, he changed it to an amusement park, whose full name was "New England's Playworld Amusement Park and Zoo," notable for a huge statue of Mighty Mouse. This change failed to stem the decline, and the park went out of business at the end of the 1987 season.
Since 2001 there have been efforts by local people to restore the grounds as a park.
Benson's Animal Farm
Monday, August 24, 2009
Benson's Animal Farm