This is a historical feature and not a critique on the conditions in Tampa's early zoos or their treatment of animals.

Back in the time of these zoos, the purpose of the exhibits was mainly to confine the animal and entertain the public.  Enclosures were often just small, concrete-floor cages built with little or no regard for the animals' instinctual behavior and minimal expenditures could not provide a healthy natural habitat. Often there was no secondary barrier to keep the public at a safe distance. Neglect, unsanitary conditions, and lack of experienced, professional medical attention were typical, as well as abuse by visitors. There was seldom any effort to cater to the animals' mental/emotional well-being and performing animals were sometimes trained using negative reinforcement, such as inflicting pain.


TampaPix is by no means an authority on the subject. If you wish to learn  about zoos from experts, read Thomas French's "A Zoo Story" and visit J. D. "Doug" Porter's blog.  Porter's long career was everything from animal keeper to zoo director, and he is an excellent author.  He was superintendent at Lowry Park Zoo from May 1984 to May 1988. 

This is not to say that zookeepers were ruthless abusers and didn't care for their animals.  Many considered their animals as their pets and treated them as such. 

While working for the City of Tampa Parks Department, Porter guided the aging zoo, once identified nationally as "the worst zoo in America," through a complete renovation and achieved the institution's first AZA Accreditation.  He  also  arranged  and  organized  the  two  main  sources of funding to privatize the new zoo.

(J. D. Porter career info from LinkedIn)

This site disapproves of and detests any form of mistreatment of animals.



The beginnings of a conveniently located zoo near the center of town began in 1912 when a bronze fountain and surrounding circular pool was built on Courthouse Square. The pool was approximately twenty-five feet in diameter and was located on the courthouse lawn nearest the intersection of Madison St. and Franklin St., between the bandstand and courthouse entrance.

After the old, original wooden bandstand was replaced by a reinforced concrete one, the entire quadrant of the lawn on that corner was paved over . 

The fountain had two levels, shaped like dishes; a larger lower level and a smaller upper level where a statue of a boy stood at the top, holding over his head an open umbrella from where the water sprouted.  Over the years, the basin became a home to various fish, alligators, and turtles, and whatever else anyone felt like abandoning in there, like frogs, food scraps, and litter.  It was quite a popular gathering place, with the various reptiles and fish attracting quite a bit of attention.

The gators were being fed regularly by the courthouse custodian, in fact they were overfed and quickly grew fat.  Feeding time was an event that drew in crowds, and it is evident that Tampa sorely needed a zoo, and that it would draw many visitors if located in or around downtown.  The collection not only captured the attention of onlookers, it was a subject often written about in the papers, usually in a humorous style.

From time to time, the larger gators were removed and sent to the Sulphur Springs alligator farm and in the later years, to Plant Park.

Click the dates to see the articles.

Aug. 3, 1911 WILL HAVE SIDEWALKS The first mention of an ornamental fountain for courthouse square was at an Aug. 1, 1911 county commission meeting where a bid was accepted from Concrete Construction Company to build diagonal sidewalks on the courthouse lawn (where the Confederate memorial and bandstand were)  from each corner of the yard to the courthouse entrance.  The plans also called for a fountain.
Nov. 11, 1911 COMMITTEE WILL LOOK AT FOUNTAIN DESIGNS - Planned to get handsome one for court house yard - Report next meeting. A county commissioners committee consisting of Chairman W. A. West, W.W. Whitehurst, P.H. Collins, and F.J. DeVane examined various fountain designs and would report on their recommendations as to what kind should be purchased and how much to spend.  "It is desired to get as ornamental a fountain as possible consistent with the economy."
Dec. 6, 1911 County Commissioners Meeting report on water main. Chairman West reported that a larger water main would need to be laid to accommodate the fountain which the board selected.  West stated he had been informed that some time prior to his being on the board, a contract was made with D. W. Shea to lay a two-inch pipe for which he was paid, but he laid a one-inch pipe instead.  West also stated that he hired a man to paint the courthouse dome for $100 and the work be done at once.
Dec. 7, 1911 FOUNTAIN IS ORDERED A design for the fountain was selected and ordered and together with the base they would cost about $1,000.
Jan. 20, 1912 SPLASHING FOUNTAIN FOR COURTHOUSE SQUARE - Where music of waters will mingle with perfume of flowers, replacing sordid brown of earth and footprints. Construction by the Tampa Monumental Works will begin in a few days on the fountain near the old bandstand.  Sidewalks have already been built and and expert landscape gardener was to be hired to complete the plants and flowers.  Afterward, the groundskeeper Ole Jacobsen would maintain the grounds.    A beautiful Bermuda grass lawn was laid artistically arranged with flower beds and many improvements by Jacobsen, whose small plants were just beginning to sprout.  When grown, the plants will spell out "HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY."  A more detailed description of the landscaping is given, and mention of the old bandstand being replaced soon by "one of a more substantial nature."
Feb. 8, 1912 COURTHOUSE FOUNTAIN TINKLES MERRILY AWAY - Other improvements about the County's Building. The water to the fountain was turned on yesterday afternoon and attracted much attention.  The handsome piece of work was built by the Tampa Monumental Works under supervision of J. W. Lester. The surrounding sidewalk has been made wider and other improvements made.  The bandstand was an eyesore for many years and would soon be replaced by a handsome brick one.  Jacobsen, the gardener, has submitted plans for more improvements of the grounds.
Mar. 12, 1912 COUNTY OWNS SOME LAKE TROUT NOW, They're at home in the fountain which graces the courthouse square. Judge Gibson and W. F. Ferman went fishing at Lake Butler when the judge decided to bring back some trout for the courthouse fountain.  They put several samples in their minnow buckets, brought them safely back to Tampa and slipped them into the fountain pool.
Mar. 30, 1912 COUNTY'S FROG RIDES BACK OF BIG TURTLE, Capering in pool at fountain.  Pete Allen's frog? The antics of a large frog and a turtle placed in the pool overnight are described as a "royal battle."  The frog delighted in jumping on the turtle's back and the turtle did not oblige the friendship.    One of the spectators was Pete Allen who used to own a frog farm in Stemper (which is an area on the south side of what became Lutz, near the "Apex.")   Allen said it looked like it was one of his frogs, but nobody claimed the turtle because it was too ugly.  Now there was a frog, a turtle, and several fish drawing a crowd and providing them with entertainment.  A bystander said that since everyone was so entertained, he was going to bring an alligator on Monday, "and then there will be some fun."
Apr. 15, 1912 COURTHOUSE FOUNTAIN LITTERED WITH GARBAGE, Designed as ornament, becoming an eyesore. The fountain has degenerated from an ornament to an eyesore.  It had only been TWO MONTHS since it was built.  This article reveals that the fountain was made possible by the Tampa Civic Association.  The pool no longer sparkled, it was a muddy green with bread, cabbage and cauliflower leaves floating around which were placed there to feed the turtles and frog.  Added to the mix was a tin can and a glass liquor bottle.  The pool has taken on the look of "a mud hole in the rear of a tenement."
Jun. 22, 1912 New bandstand to be built. Thanks to the efforts of Maj. Charles E. Wright, a new bandstand was to be built to replace the old dilapidated original one.  The new one would be made of reinforced concrete and the lawn in the spaces between the sidewalks in this quadrant of courthouse square would be paved.  This was because the lawn would be trampled by crowds and thus look bad.
Oct. 14, 1912 CONTRACT FOR NEW COURT HOUSE BAND STAND The contract to build the new bandstand was awarded to D. J. Anderson who would begin work next week and be done by Dec. 13.  The cost was to be a little more than $1,000.  The very ornamental stand would be entirely concrete with a red tile roof and basement for storage.  The stage would be slightly higher than the old stand.  The design was awarded to Bonfoey & Elliott in a competition with other architects.
Nov. 24, 1912 MUNICIPAL BAND NOW USES NEW BANDSTAND, Further improvements to be made. The Tampa Municipal Band began using the bandstand when it was nearly finished. It was said that the structure was very decorative and added to the attractiveness of the place.  "In the basement will be arranged cupboards in which music, musical instruments and the uniforms of the bandsmen will be kept.  One side of the basement will be used by the gardener for storage of his tools."  It was expected to be a short time when the entire corner surrounding the bandstand would be paved with cement and more benches added, with some plots left for flower beds.
Jul. 1, 1913
C.O.D. PARCEL POST INAUGURATED TODAY, Box of gator eggs will be first Tampa shipment - Saurian fruit goes to Indiana - Sunny Jim Robinson presents city with new and handsome "lizard." R. W. Janes and Sunny Jim Robinson went fishing near Fivay Junction.  Jim got a bite that seemed like a whale, but it turned out to be a two-foot long gator.  He tied it to a stake with a string.  Later, Janes found some gator eggs in a nest and knowing it was the first day of COD parcel post service in Tampa, they came to town with the gator in a sack and sent the eggs COD to Miss Louise Janes in Mt. Vernon, Indiana.  Jim thought it would be funny to play practical jokes on local merchants with the sacked gator.  At the Court House Square pharmacy, he told them he had a "pretty bunny" in the sack.  He turned it inside out and out dropped the gator on the floor, which skittered toward the door to the shock of everyone there.  The soda jerk managed to intercept it before it got out.  "Other places on Franklin St. were visited, and in each, Sunny Jim cleared the stores faster than a blast of dynamite would have done it."  The gator was finally given a new home in the fountain at Court House Square, after a local newsstand merchant had made a aluminum neck decoration for it.  Councilman Bartlett was present when the gator was put in the fountain and said that if anyone removed the reptile from there, he would "resign from his place among the City Dade forever."
Jul 24, 1913 IMPROVING NEGLECTED CORNER OF COURTYARD, Walks will be laid out, Flower beds Planted SEVEN months have passed since the completion of the new bandstand, and yet the much publicized paving of the area had been neglected.  Workmen finally began the improvements on July 23, 1913, under instructions from the County Commissioners.  Enough cement paving would be laid out to accommodate standing and sitting room for crowds to gather, but sufficient ground would be reserved for flowers .  A unique "twin palm tree" was transplanted from its original location on the Alafia river, which chairman J. L. Hackney found and arranged to have moved.  Visitors to the area were as interested in the tree as they were the feeding of the gators.
Aug. 18, 1913 PUBLIC SQUARE IS AN ORNAMENT - Visitor comments on the change - What was once an eyesore has been metamorphosed into a thing of beauty. A visitor spoke to a Tampa Times reporter saying that courthouse square has been changed into a "beauty spot from what once a disgrace to a progressive city like Tampa."  It used to give him a sorrowful feeling to see the condition of the square, now it was a "pleasure to gaze upon."  The northwest quadrant of the square had been complete paved in cement, no more lawn around the bandstand and fountain.  Flower beds had been laid out around the perimeter. The fountain was described as containing "the family of Florida's first settlers, a group of alligators" which was quite an attraction to visitors who "do not think they have 'done' Florida until they form a fairy intimate acquaintance with an alligator.."  The article goes on to praise the county commissioners for their work in restoring the square, including the "handsome statue to the memory of Florida soldiers of the Confederacy." 
See photos and a feature about this monument and history of this courthouse here at TampaPix.


AT LEFT: The original wooden bandstand in 1898.


AT RIGHT: The 1912 bandstand seen in 1936.  The fountain pool can be seen at lower right.



Above Left: A cropped portion of much larger image courtesy of Florida Memory, State Library & Archives of Fla.  Above Right:  A cropped portion of much larger image courtesy of the Burgert Bros. collection at Tampa-Hillsborough Co. Public Library System

Aug. 31, 1913 PLANT CITY GATOR IS LATEST GUEST IN COURTHOUSE FOUNT - Friend sends Sheriff Spencer a pet, other gators hid while "new boy" shows his shape proudly. The Board of County Commissioners just had one of the largest gators removed from the pool because it was deemed dangerous, when Sheriff W. C. Spencer added one that was two feet longer than any of the others left in the pool.  The gator was sent to him by a friend in Plant City.  Among the spectators admiring the new young stud was chairman of the board of commissioners who had the largest gator removed previously. "In due time it will be as fat at the others, the landscape gardener there giving the gators raw meat every day until they can hold no more."
Feb. 15, 1914 FEEDING TIME FOR GATORS ATTRACTION FOR VISITORS - Crowds watch daily on courthouse square to watch Jacobsen parcel out the meat. For visitors from the North, no event is more notable than the daily feeding of the gators in the courthouse square fountain pool.  Every day, "hundreds gather around the fountain to was gardener Ole Jacobsen hand out the hunks of meat..."  Known to northern visitors as a "mythical creature" the first thing they want to see when they get here is an alligator, "alive, dead or stuffed."  The feeding time attracted more attention than most any other free show in Tampa.  When Jacobsen makes his appearance at about 4 p.m., the crowd usually makes a rush for the fountain.
Apr. 6, 1917 RUBE DOES NOT SEE WHY THE LAW SHOULDN'T PROTECT GATORS, Takes pleasure in helping several escape, police interfere. A veteran Sarasota newspaper editor, Rube Allyn, sees no reason or law that allows gators to be confined, nor any law preventing him from freeing them from their captivity.  He believes alligators have "certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty, etc (you know, that thing.) Upon lifting them by the tail and letting them loose on the square, the gator "produced a profound sensation among the spectators, many of whom were badly frightened as the clumsy creatures charged into the crowd."  The liberator also said "they are being overfed, so badly that it is injurious to their health." He went on to say that there are scores of poor soldier boys just having returned from the border and don't have enough to even buy a meal, and "this is not just."  When one of the spectators could not locate the groundskeeper, he called the police.  Officer Hill arrived and informed Mr. Allyn that "he must desist in his interference with the natural history exhibit."

According to his censuses in Tampa, as well as other sources,  Ole Jacobsen was born to Danish parents in Denmark in May 1852.  He was married to Kristine, a native of Denmark, around 1884-85 before leaving Denmark in 1891.  They were listed as "steerage class" passengers #36 & #37 on the S. S. Hekla and boarded the ship in Copenhagen, arriving at the Port of NY on Feb. 11, 1891.  Ole was 38, Kristine was 35.  Ole's occupation was "Gardener" and their ultimate destination is somewhat illegible.   The  city wasn't Chicago, as there are other instances of "Chicago" written on the manifest and they are very different.  The handwriting sample at right shows the writer consistently makes a capital "I" in Illinois.  The lower case "a" is almost always open at the top, making it look like a "u."  The capital "S" always looks like an "L" and appears many times in "Sweden."  Compare to the record below and their destination appears to have been Sabula, Iowa, a town located on an island in the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa, about 100 mi. west of Chicago.

The first mention of Ole Jacobsen found in the local papers is this "position wanted" ad he placed on Aug. 18, 1909.

According to his obituary, "Once, in his native town, he decorated the city for a visit of the King of England and the Danish king and queen.  He came to the U.S. to do landscape work at the Chicago World's Fair, which was held in 1893.  The event was officially billed as "World's Fair: Columbian Exposition."  He and Kristine came to Tampa "four years later" and for ten years Ole was the custodian of the courthouse square which he beautified. 

An Oct. 5, 1913 Tribune article "JACOBSON GETS BADGE, Star As Large As a Man's Hand, Pinned on Gardener by Sheriff" describes how he was presented with a "handsome nickel-plated badge in the form of a star" by Sheriff W. C. Spencer.  Intended to be visible at a distance, it afforded him authority to patrol the courthouse grounds and keep people off the lawn.  Also, to "help frighten away some of the chronic loafers who sun themselves every day on the courthouse benches."  The article ends with "If the star doesn't do the business, Jacobson has a fist that will.  He is as familiar with uppercuts and solar plexus blows as he is with Bermuda grass and geraniums."

June 6, 1917 - RED CROSS TENT MUST KEEP OFF THE GRASS -  Commissioners had several weeks earlier given the Red Cross permission to erect a tent on the paved portion of the square, so as not to damage the lawn, as recommended by Ole Jacobsen.  They were to notify Commissioner Milton H. Mabry Jr. when they began, and they did neither.  When they started the tent on the lawn, Jacobsen put a stop to it.  The matter was brought before the board and voted on in support of Jacobsen's actions.

In June of 1919, Jacobsen asked the Board of County Commissioners for a wage increase of his $85 per month salary.  A Jun. 7, 1919 Tribune article about the commissioners' meeting of June 6, says "The board offered to add $5 on his pay, but Oleson indignantly declined, saying that if the board couldn't do any better than that he would quit on July 1."  The board decided to let him quit at once.  After that, several members said they had intended to increase his pay later on when they were not so short of funds, but that Jacobsen had been taking on outside work and devoting only part of his time to the courthouse square.  Also, there had been complaints about his gruffness to persons about the place.  (Gruffness probably inspired by the article printed on Oct. 13, 1913 "Jacobsen gets badge" which appeared to encourage physical violence.)

A Feb. 27, 1920 Times article about baseball in Tampa says that the diamond at Plant field will be ready for the Senators.  "Ole Jacobsen, the courthouse gardener, is seeing that the grass on the infield is coming along and taking it all in all, the Senators will find it fast, a firm sod, and better than they expected."

Jun. 29, 1921 PEACEMAKER KEPT BUSY WITH DOMESTIC PROBLEMS OF COURTHOUSE FOUNTAIN J. H. Knight, now the courthouse groundskeeper, tries to keep peace and harmony in the pool where the kindly interest of Tampans continue capture wild things with which to stock the courthouse square fountain.  There are now alligators and turtles, salt & fresh-water, of varying sizes.  Without regard to Knight's problems, a Tampan had contributed a six-foot long alligator who devoured two of the smaller ones before it could be sent to the alligator farm at Sulphur Springs.  The supply of gators grew so quickly that five of the largest ones had already been sent to the farm that year.  Among the turtles were a "Haw Bill" sea turtle without claws, a "Diamond back" sea turtle, a "Logger Head" snapping turtle, a "Streak Neck" turtle and a "Soft Shell" turtle, all being supplied fresh water from the fountain.
Jan. 31, 1923 TOURIST LOCATES A MANATEE IN THE COURTHOUSE POOL "The gator tank in the courthouse square is a never failing source of entertainment to the winter visitors in Tampa."  This article says they stood three-deep to watch the courthouse custodian give the tank a cleaning out.  "There are about a score of alligators (20) from a couple of months to two years of age...and about a dozen turtles of five or six varieties, including the "rare soft shell or 'stinking' turtle.  This turtle was pointed out by a spectator who was heard telling a woman next to him, "that is not a true turtle, but what is known as a Florida manatee."  The Times reporter hopes that this tourist with his "fund of information" should visit the Florida museum at the fair, where a specimen of manatee is shown" and says his statement was "about as accurate as pointing to a fiddler crab and calling it a dolphin."
Aug. 27, 1925 COURTHOUSE AQUARIUM HAS ITS LARGEST BOARDER NOW - Gator sentenced for napping. This comical article begins with a town drunk waking up at the courthouse square and staring into the fountain basin, then shrieking in terror and running of as if "all the fiends of hell were at his heels."  More references of the crazed man being witnessed in other areas claim he was fleeing with his hand upraised as if making a vow and swearing off cheap liquor.  The cause of this escapade was a four-and-a-half foot long gator in the pool, who was twice as long as any of the others.  It was put there by the courthouse custodian, C. C. Wetherington.  The article references what the "toper" must have thought, this being the "topper"--the bronze statue of the boy and his umbrella at the top of the fountain.  The gator was caught by a driver of a real estate bus in Lake City, who blinded the gator with his headlights one night.  The article ends with a mock sentencing of the gator by Chief Justice Blount.
Jul. 3, 1929 ALLIGATOR ARRESTED Police were called to 1513 Pierce St. where a four-foot long alligator was trapped in the back yard.  Police surrounded it, overpowered it and loaded it into a police emergency car and then taken and put in the courthouse fountain pool.
Dec. 13, 1929 COURTHOUSE FOUNTAIN TO RUN AGAIN The old fountain in courthouse square, "which has not been 'fountaining' for quite some time" was to be restored to working condition by the garden clubs of Tampa.  The clubs petitioned the county commissioners to put the fountain back in working order, and to lay water pipes to irrigate the lawn and keep it in shape.


Ole Jacobsen died on Jan. 1, 1930 while in Tallahassee, one notice says he was 60, the others say he was 75. The latter was also the only notice that said he died in Tallahassee. 

His censuses indicate he would have been 78.  It's not known why he was in Tallahassee, or even if he actually was.  Only one article says this and there is nothing said about his body being brought back to Tampa.  Most death notices will indicate this when someone passes away while visiting somewhere outside of their home town.    All signs indicate he was living in Tampa at the time.  His wife was his only survivor, and she is on the 1930 census in Tampa listed as widowed.  Her censuses show they never had children.  Ole's funeral was officiated by Rev. G.F. Snyder of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and held at the Greenman-Company funeral home on Jan. 5, 1930 at 1 p.m.  Pallbearers were V. Gram, L. Lingaard, G. Kroin, V. Jensen, N. Pedersen, and C. Samson.  He was buried in Tampa Memorial Park cemetery.




Obituary of Pete, the approximately seven year old alligator, a resident of the courthouse pool, and notice of his funeral services.

Jul. 27, 1930 Letter to Tribune The little iron boy on the courthouse fountain needs a bigger umbrella when the wind blows. 

(In the years to come there were several occasional letters to the newspapers and some articles about the condition of this statue.  Apparently, the umbrella canopy was damaged or collapsing to where the water would drain through a hole in it right onto the boys face, who was apparently positioned looking upward. The statue was called the "Rain-in-the-face boy.")

Dec. 16, 1932 Alligator Antics



Six motionless gators prompt one onlooker to claim that they weren't live gators, they were stuffed.


It's the end of an era for local alligator entertainment at courthouse square.

One month short of exactly TWENTY years since the first gator was introduced to the pool, County Commissioner Fred Ball directed the courthouse custodian to clear out all that inhabited the fountain basin.

The creatures were sent to PLANT PARK, where the collection was just getting started, thanks to the efforts of the County Parks Supt. Marco Penn.

The fountain pool would be cleaned, beautified and filled with clean water, water lilies, and goldfish.

Jun. 10, 1933 COURTHOUSE GROUNDS ARE BEAUTIFIED IN A BIG WAY Work had begun to beautify the fountain and pool, and the courthouse grounds with a fine lawn, shrubbery and perennials having just been completed at the southwest lawn (where the Confederate memorial stood.)  The pool was deepened, given a coat of silver aluminum paint, as well as the fountain painted with alternating silver and gold paint.  "A bottom layer of muck is to be placed in the basin, a foot or so below the water, and golfish are to be given a home therein."  Water lilies and other plants would be added so the fountain would a a "point of attraction such as never was afforded by the alligators and the mossbacked snappers..."  Commissioner Fred Ball said that the garden club ladies had made the southwest lawn so attractive, that the fountain area didn't seem to belong before the beautification.
Jun. 13, 1933 ON THE GOLDFISH STANDARD The fountain was now "spanking clean and bright with silver and gold paint" and was ready to be stocked with goldfish.  The pool was being prepared by George Tomko, "who knows his water plants."  The old, dirty gator pool is described as having "held no charm" to Florida "crackers" but it was the tourists who found more interest in it.
Jun. 15, 1933 Letters to the Tribune A cynical Tribune reader writes to say the removal of the "exotic alligators and tropical turtles" from the fountain pool was probably due to goldfish being cheaper to feed.  He/She goes on to say the next step will be to cut down the picturesque palms and plant ordinary trees that can be seen anywhere around the country, just to make tourists feel at home.
Jun. 1, 1938 MARAUDING GATOR GETS THE GATE The mystery of missing fish solved, there was a 4-ft long gator in the pool.  It was lassoed and hog-tied and sent to Plant Park.



This Tribune photo from Jan. 1940 is the only one found thus far that shows the fountain in its entirety.  The boy appears to be in the form of a cherub, which was often used to adorn most fountains, looking up into his umbrella.

Most of the old courthouse photos taken by the Burgert Bros. and Robertson & Fresh were taken from the southwest corner of the square, emphasizing the lawn and the Confederate monument.  Elevated and ground views of the northwest corner of the courthouse show the area of the fountain obstructed by trees or by the bandstand.





When it came time to demolish the old county courthouse in 1952, plans were made to relocate the Confederate monument to the new courthouse at Pierce St.  The Temporary WW1 & WW2 memorial (made of wood) was not relocated but the plaque inside was placed in a more permanent blockhouse-looking concrete monument (which also serves as a tool shed for lawn equipment.)

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union had plans with the County Commission to relocate the drinking water fountain at the new courthouse but only as a "monument" and not a working fountain.

The base of the fountain was inscribed with names of WCTU members who originally helped in placing the fountain at courthouse square.


The 1962 article above right by Paul Wilder claims that a Polk County citrus mogul bought the statue of "the kid with the umbrella."  No further research has been done to verify this or if he bought the statue and the fountain.

Circa 1947 Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa Hillsborough Co. Public Library System.


Below:  In 1948, Courthouse Square got its first exotic animal collection--two mermaids.  But seriously, this was a 1948 publicity event with Weeki Wachee mermaids to promote a film titled "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid."
Part of the fountain and half of the pool can be seen at the right edge.

Photo courtesy of Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida.


Tampa Tribune's "History & Heritage" by Leland Hawes - Jan. 24 ~ Feb. 14, 1993

According to the memories of the Tribune readers who responded below, the fountain basin was round and about twenty five feet in diameter.  A "sort of cyclone wire covered the pool" to keep the gators from biting people.  The gators grew to about 15 to 18 inches long and grew quickly.  The wall surrounding the basin wasn't very tall; people would sit on it. 

The photo at right was part of the article below, submitted by Ruth L. Filkins of Winter Haven. It would have been taken no later than 1933 when all the creatures in the pool were removed and replaced with goldfish.



In the years when any place with a caged animal called itself a zoo, zoos abounded in Florida, with alligators being the main attraction. Gators were big business in Florida; they were on display at just about every roadside citrus stand in the state.  Not only could you see them, you could buy them too.

The "zoo" at Sulphur Springs in the 1910s to 1920s was no exception, except for the fact that C.M. Stokes had a gator show with "educated alligators" and a "complete line of alligator goods" as well as snakes.

From J. D. (Doug) Porter's blog, Nov. 7, 2019 "Good size zoo for the City of Tampa."

"Snakes and Alligators Flourish at Tampa Zoo," screamed the headline. Flourish would seem an understatement when you consider that the Sulphur Springs zoo in Tampa, Florida was reporting the birth of thirty-four diamondback rattlesnakes and the “setting” of two hundred alligator eggs—in September 1914.

Lowry Park Zoo (now ZooTampa at Lowry Park) traces its founding to 1957, but that is not the beginning of Tampa’s zoo story—not by a long shot. That is not even the beginning of the Lowry Park zoo part of the story.

Tampa’s colorful history with zoos began shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. According to that September 1914 article, zoo manager C. M. Stokes also boasted about having a “big bear”, several llamas, a deer, some guinea pigs and birds.

Stokes claims to have handled snakes for over 20 years, and that he "solved the ancient controversy" as to which snakes lay eggs or give live birth.  He's concluded that non-poisonous snakes lay eggs, while poisonous ones give live birth.



Handling snakes for over 20 years didn't make Stokes much of an expert on them, because his "solution to the ancient mystery" is oversimplified at best.  Hopefully, he didn't use this as a guide for handling them. 

See Which Snakes Lay Eggs, and Which Give Birth to Live Young? by Brandon Cornett.






In April 1915, Stokes  asked the City’s Board of Public Works  to move his animals downtown to Plant Park and open a free zoo.  The Board appointed Commissioner Clarkson to visit the zoo and estimate the worth of the animals.  The result would depend largely on the report of Clarkson.






Mrs. Metcalfe, who was a promoter of educational work for children, urged the BPW to take Mr. Stokes' offer of moving his zoo to Park, for the education of school children and entertainment of visitors. 


But Mr. Stokes' plan involved more than just moving his animals and starting a free zoo.  He wanted the privilege of operating a restaurant and a post card stand at the park.  Also, he apparently expected the City to buy his animals, as Commissioner Clarkson's written report of his findings stated he did not think the city was in a position to buy the animals because Mr. Stokes' valuation was high, but he did agree the exhibit would be welcomed by the public.  He also thought the variety of animals was insufficient to be worthy of the city. 


Commissioner Henry Snow agreed that Tampa should have a "creditable zoological garden" but the city could not do so this year as there was no appropriation in the current budget for this purpose.  (At this time, old City Hall built in 1890 had just been demolished, the new police headquarters had been built, and construction was starting on the new City Hall in place of the old one, all at the cost of just under $300,000.)


A new budget would be made up in June and the matter further considered.  Commissioner Henderson also favored such an attraction, and the use of a small island at the foot of Plant Ave. to be used as a public park and playground.




Apparently, enthusiasm for the zoo faded as there was no further discussion about it published from June to the end of the year.  The BPW was kept busy with other matters such as the construction of the new City Hall.


But Stokes' alligator farm at Sulphur Springs continued to thrive well into the 1920s.  The area would become Tampa's most popular tourist attraction and recreation site when Josiah Richardson built an amusement empire there.  See more about Sulphur Springs at TampaPix.


Burgert Bros. photos above and below are courtesy of the TAMPA-HILLSBOROUGH CO. PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM.

When the Great Depression hit Tampa, many of these gators lost their jobs and were forced to sacrifice their dignity and swallow their pride to take dead-end jobs around the bay area.  Some were more successful than others and managed to start a career.  Others were not so lucky.

From the Walker Evans Archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art "125 Views of West Coast of Florida, Including: Women on Benches in Sarasota, Mangroves, Pelicans, Shuffleboard Players, Men on Street in Tampa, Sponge Diving Wharves at Tarpon Springs, Coastal Residences, Fishermen, and Miscellaneous Street Scenes" Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut)


Learn more about Sulphur Springs and see many photos of Josiah Richardson's amusement park "Tourist Mecca" here at TampaPix.



In November 1925, another zoo was in the news. Looks like Mr. Pleuss may have been running quite a "Hospitality House" there.   Prohibition agents discovered a small illegal brewery with forty barrels and four vats of beer that were stored in a nearby barn.  Pleuss was arrested, arraigned, and released on bail for trial in the Feb. term of the federal court in Tampa.

Rumor was, the zoo was a great place to see pink elephants. 




"Tampa's zoo began around 1937 as an animal shelter in Plant Park on the banks of the Hillsborough River near downtown.   It was started by city employees and originally consisted of a small collection of indigenous animals such as raccoons, alligators and an aviary with a variety of exotic birds."

The entrance to Plant Park with the University of Tampa in the background, Sept. 5, 1936.

Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library digital collection.

Three women looking at an alligator from a foot bridge in Plant Park, Sept. 11, 1936.  (slightly cropped) Sept. 11, 1936 Burgert Bros. photo courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.



"As the zoo collection at Plant Park had grown, the animals were moved during the term of Mayor Nick Nuccio to the more centrally located Lowry park in 1957 where it was maintained by Tampa's Parks Department."



Lowry Park Beginnings


The Courthouse Fountain & Sulphur Springs zoos


Plant Park Zoo


Boyd's Sunoco Zoo




Fairyland/Lowry Park Zoo


Sheena the Baby Elephant and Jim Godfrey

Herman - King of the Zoo


Safety Village / Children's Museum / Kids City


Dr. Bragg's Fantasia Golf


Saving Fairyland!

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