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Greater Philadelphia Gardens: The Historic Philadelphia Zoo

Entrance sign confirms its historic significance.
Entrance sign confirms its historic significance.
Kathy Martin ( Philadelphia Zoo

As the oldest American zoo, approved in 1859 and opened to the public in 1874, The Philadelphia zoo is a 42-acre victorian garden with claim to over 30,000 species of plant life, impressive historic trees, as well as, some 1300 animals. Tree-lined paved walkways invite visitors to enjoy shaded picnic areas, tree-house views and nature in all its variety.

Historic stories

The Philadelphia zoo recognizes prominent physician, Dr. William Camac as its founding father. It was he who led the way to making America’s first zoo a reality. Signed and approved in 1859, it wasn’t until July 1st of 1874 that it opened due to the Civil War. The Frank Furness Victorian gates and historic gatehouses, at the zoo entrance, are the same as they were on opening day. Just imagine 3,000 adults and children anxious to discover so many new wonders and all for the admission charge of 25 cents, 10 cents for children.

Historic trees

It is understood that the animal collections and exhibits are the primary draw of its visitors, however, take time to notice the historic trees that also reside at The Philadelphia zoo. Near the entrance the largest ginkgo tree in the city and the appropriately-named monkey puzzle tree are both curious and impressive. Then there is a remarkable 216 year-old English elm tree that is reported to be planted by John Penn, none other than William Penn’s grandson. The zoo, known for collections of the unusual and endangered, is also home to a rare Chinese wingnut tree and numerous endangered American chestnut trees. Balanced among ornate iron and animal sculptures, picnic areas are shaded by historic trees and walkways planned by those with vision. It is understandable, that this institution, consistently focused on preservation and education be also recognized as one of Philadelphia’s favorite gardens.

In 2013, the Philadelphia zoo welcomed 1.2 million visitors and this year is likely to continue its popularity. Plan time, when you visit, for a leisurely stroll to appreciate the shade trees, garden layout and historic features of this storied institution. Online research, in advance of your visit, is prudent for tickets, transportation and parking options, as well as, encouraged for advance knowledge of current exhibits to make the best of your exploration.

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