The Knoxville Zoo was created in an unusual and unlikely way. The Zoo’s history starts in 1923 when an initiative began to create a park for the lower income children in Knoxville. This initiative as boosted by a Birthday Fund that was collected by children of various ages. Although progress was initially slow, a small plot was purchased in Chilhowee Park in 1935. Originally known as the Birthday Park, the four acres of land was used as a small playground that had a stone shelter and a small wading pool. The Birthday Park eventually became neglected and was even vandalized. This caused the Birthday Park to eventually close in 1946.
Two years after the Birthday Park closed, the News Sentinel created an initiative to reopen the Birthday Park, but this time as a zoo. The News Sentinel utilized a small amount of funds that was from the 1923 fund, and eventually opened the Birthday Park Zoo. A few years after the Birthday Park Zoo opened, the City of Knoxville acquired the zoo and changed the name to the simple Municipal Zoo.
Since the Municipal Zoo was in fact a zoo, the city had to acquire animals. The first attraction at the Municipal Zoo was Al the alligator. Al was donated by a local family, the Hauk family, who brought him back from a vacation in Florida. The 4,000 guests who visited Al on his first day at the Zoo proved to the city the Zoo would be a success.
After acquiring various animals throughout the years, the Municipal Zoo ran into a conflict when they acquired a seven-ton bull elephant known as Old Diamond. Old Diamond, also known as Louie, was originally owned by the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, but was donated to the Municipal Zoo in 1963. The Zoo was obviously unprepared to take care of an animal as large and dependent as Old Diamond, as on his arrival, he tore up his habitat.
The unprecedented damage from Old Diamond proved to be a wakeup call for the Municipal Zoo, as they realize they needed a better facility. But, the Zoo lacked the proper funds to build a new facility. Just when the Zoo was about to close down, Guy Lincoln Smith III created a plan to save it. Smith and his wife Patty purchased Joshua, a lion cub. They raised Joshua until they acquired enough money that would provide the Zoo with enough money to build Joshua a proper facility. As the Smith’s carried out this plan, Dr. Bill Patterson simultaneously created the Appalachian Zoological Society. Together, both of these efforts created the Knoxville Zoo, which opened in 1971. Photo: Knoxville Zoo
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