History of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is a historic zoo in St. Augustine, Florida.

Established in 1893, the zoo is located on a 30-acre complex on Anastasia Island and is one of the oldest private zoos in Florida and one of the oldest continuously operated tourist attractions in Florida.

It is also the only zoo in the world that displays all 23 crocodilian species, including the nearly extinct Philippine crocodile.

The farm was first established in 1893 by St. Augustine resident Everett C. Whitney at South Beach on Anastasia Island and was known as Whitney’s Alligator Farm and Zoo (NPS 1992.)

About 1909, Whitney sold the alligator farm to George Reddington and Felix Fire, who were also St. Augustine residents.

Reddington and Fire had first become interested in the farm while working for the South Beach Railway, which connected the mainland city of St. Augustine with the beach area on the east side of Anastasia Island.

Reddington and Fire incorporated the South Beach Alligator Farm and Museum of Marine Curiosities that year and moved the farm to a new location on South Beach.

South Beach Alligator Farm, photo by George Reddington, circa 1910
South Beach Alligator Farm, photo by George Reddington, circa 1910

The farm underwent a name change to Reddington and Fire’s Alligator Farm and continued at that location for more than two decades. The farm featured hundreds of alligators, various species of Florida’s venomous snakes and other wild animals which earned it the reputation as the world’s largest alligator farm.

In December of 1920, a fire broke out on South Beach and destroyed part of the farm. About four months later another fire broke out and completed destroyed the farm, including Felix Fire’s apartment and the original stockade surrounding the alligator pens.

In September of 1920, a nor’easter struck St. Augustine and washed what remained of the farm into the sea. The storm also washed out the railroad tracks for the tram service to the island, ending the tram service and isolating the farm. Many of the farm’s animals perished during the storm but some were saved and kept in temporary cages until work on a new zoo could be completed.

Fire and Reddington had already begun looking at relocating their farm even before the storm struck and soon settled on a 10 acre tract of land two miles north of the South Beach location, at the intersection of State Road AlA and Old Quarry Road, within a few days of the storm.

The new location was closer to the St. Augustine hotels and to the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which was a popular tourist attraction. The new farm featured a wood frame building containing offices, a gift shop and the entrance to the outdoor exhibit and several undeveloped tracts of land.

Postcard of Reddington's Gator Farm
Postcard of Reddington’s Gator Farm

In 1934, Reddington purchased Fire’s interest in the farm but Fire continued to serve as the farm’s alligator curator. Fire was also a taxidermist and prepared specimens for the farm’s exhibits.

On December 25, 1936, the main building and entrance to the farm was destroyed in a fire.

In February of 1937, Reddington sold the attraction to two local businessmen W.I. Drysdale and F. Charles Usina.

Drysdale and Usina set up a temporary entrance for the farm and hired local contractor F.B. Mead to design and construct a new building to house the offices, gift shop and entrance as well as a new alligator pen.

The new owners also donated a strip of land to the State of Florida for the construction of State Road 140, known today as Anastasia Boulevard, to provide better access to the farm.

Drysdale and Usina worked to improve the exhibits and acquired new animals from local zoos such as crocodiles, ostriches, Galapagos tortoises as well as monkeys and birds native to Florida.

In 1966, Usina died and Drysdale continued to run the park until the early 1970s when he passed management duties to his son, David.

David Drysdale continued to improve the park and built a new reptile pavilion, gator arena and nature trail in the late 1970s and added a snack bar and new walkways in 1986.

In 1989, the farm was accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and has retained its accreditation ever since.

In 1990, the farm purchased a giant, 1,896 pound New Guinea crocodile named Gomek, one of the largest captive crocodiles in history, and built a pavilion for him in 1991.

Billboard for the St. Alligator Farm, Route A1A, St. Augustine, Florida, circa 1990
Billboard for the St. Alligator Farm, Route A1A, St. Augustine, Florida, circa 1990

On September 10, 1992, the alligator farm was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Historic District.

On March 6, 1997, Gomek the crocodile died of heart disease at the age of about 70 or 80 years old.

To continue its mission of education and conservation, the farm opened the Anastasia Island Conservation Center on the property in 2001.

In 2011, the park built a zip line over the crocodile and alligator pit and called it Crocodile Crossing. The zip line allows visitors to travel across seven acres of the park on two different courses and takes about 90 minutes to complete.

In 2012, the park acquired its first albino alligators when it received four baby albino alligators from a Louisiana rancher.

In November of 2018, a trespasser was bitten by a crocodile after he broke into the park and jumped into the pool at the Nile Crocodile Exhibit. One of the crocodiles bit the intruder’s leg, prompting the man to climb out of the pool and flee the park. He was later arrested, convicted of criminal mischief, trespassing and violation of probation and sentenced to a year in St. Johns County jail.

In August of 2019, the park opened a new sloth exhibit as a part of the rainforest habitat of the ‘Land of the Crocodiles’ exhibit.

In May of 2020, long-time alligator curator for the farm, Jim Darlington, was seriously injured when an alligator lunged at his canoe in an area of the park known as “the swamp” when the animal mistakenly thought Darlington was feeding him. Darlington was hospitalized and required stitches but didn’t suffer any broken bones.

In February of 2021, an alligator at the farm underwent surgery to remove a sneaker it had eaten when it fell off a visitor’s foot as they zip lined over the alligator pit.

If you are interested in visiting the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and want to save money on tickets, check out this article on St. Augustine Alligator Farm coupons and discount tickets.

The farm also hosts events, such as Zoo Night, Croctoberfest and a Halloween event for kids each each year and allows visitors to the park to hold a baby alligator, pet a sloth and feed the alligators for an extra fee.

Farrington, Brendan. “Florida attraction zips over alligators.” AP News, 27 Nov. 2013, apnews.com/article/9c45e50bf48c4676b6bca2a028c0911b
Lippe, Jordi and Jordie Lippe-McGraw. “This Florida zipline spans a literal pit of alligators.” Travel and Leisure, 11 March. 2016, travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/adventure-travel/zipline-over-live-alligators
Haworth, Jon. “350-pound crocodile undergoes major surgery to remove tourist’s shoe from stomach.” ABC News, 11 Feb. 2021, abcnews.go.com/US/350-pound-crocodile-undergoes-major-surgery-remove-tourists/story?id=76028991
“Alligator farm achieves esteemed AZA accreditation.” St. Augustine Record, 5 April. 2020, staugustine.com/story/lifestyle/2020/04/05/alligator-farm-achieves-esteemed-aza-accreditation/1405519007/
“Currently accredited zoos and aquariums.” Association of Zoos and Aquariums, aza.org/current-accreditation-list#S
Brown, Stephanie. “Man injured by crocodile after jumping in to St. Augustine Alligator Farm exhibit.” WOKV, 6 Nov. 2018, wokv.com/news/local/man-injured-crocodile-after-jumping-augustine-alligator-farm-exhibit/NcTvRvHQgNZd4KlgZWeonM/
Henning, Allyson. “‘He’s a mess’: Witnesses recall finding half-naked man bitten by crocodile.” News4Jax, 7 Nov. 2018, news4jax.com/news/2018/11/08/hes-a-mess-witnesses-recall-finding-half-naked-man-bitten-by-crocodile/
Scanlan, Dan. “Man sentenced to year in jail after Alligator Farm escapade.” The Florida Times Union, 28 Jan. 2019, jacksonville.com/story/news/crime/2019/01/28/crocodile-jumper-sentenced-to-year-in-jail-after-st-augustine-alligator-farm-escapade/6174797007/
Clark, Jessica. “Local News ‘I ripped my arm out of his teeth’: St. Augustine Alligator Farm curator describes attack by alligator.” First Coast News, 1 June, 2020, firstcoastnews.com/article/news/local/i-ripped-my-arm-out-of-his-teeth-st-augustine-alligator-farm-curator-describes-attack-by-alligator/77-c007aa9a-aaa1-4f2b-9484-2658dea66a06
“Our History.” St. Augustine Alligator Farm, alligatorfarm.com/our-history/
“St. Augustine Alligator Farm Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, National Park Service, Sept 10. 1992, s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_FL/92001232.pdf

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