Abilene’s First Zoo: A brief history of Oscar Rose Park

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Big Country Roots

Abilene Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- If you live near Oscar Rose Park you’re no stranger to the sounds of children playing or the occasional skateboard across the concrete, but if you were to hear a lion it would likely be cause for concern.

Lion, monkey, and bear noises were a daily reality for Abilenians during the 1920s-1960s. Due to the fact that Oscar Rose Park, known then as Fair Park, was home to The first Zoological garden in the city. originally purchased in 1914 the land was used as a Fairgrounds for the West Texas fair. It was also home to the Fair Park Speedway and a community auditorium. Seeing the City’s affinity for the park the City knew that projects in that area would most likely thrive. So in 1919 development began to convert the Fairgrounds into a zoo.

One of the buildings constructed during this time was the Monkey House. A building that still stands used now as a community activity center. One long time Abilene resident remembered taking a trip to the monkey enclosure only to have one of them reach through the bars and steal her hearing aid. this kind of mischief was well known at the Fair Park Zoo. Often, one of the bears would escape, almost always heading to the dumpsters behind a nearby grocery store.

Its close proximity to the city along with a growing need for space pushed the zoo organizers to look for new land somewhere a bit more spacious. City council member and at one time Taylor County Commissioner lead the search for a new plot of land for the zoo. Landing eventually on the old Abilene Airport. The land was converted into animal habitats and the main runway was converted into a parking lot. The park which we now know as Grover Nelson Park was named after the man that brought it into being.

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