Pack a picnic, load the kids in the car and head north to Frank Buck Zoo. Located in Gainesville, Texas, the zoo is just 40 miles north of Dallas on I-35. While small, Frank Buck Zoo is ideal for families with children. The grounds are beautifully maintained and easily walked by little feet. A recently built African Savannah gives people an opportunity to see animals from an elevated boardwalk. Visitors can feed giraffe daily at 10:30 from the platform which puts you on level with the long necked creatures. Groups can make special arrangements for both giraffe feedings and behind the scenes tours.
Along with exotic animals, the zoo’s collection includes many North American animals. Be sure to bring quarters with you for the feed dispensers at the goat exhibit. While it may be a little intimidating for smaller children to feed the giraffe, the kids will have no qualms hand feeding the zoo’s gentle goats.
The zoo also has an exhibit of Frank Buck memorabilia in its main building. Born in Gainesville in 1884, Frank “Bring them back alive” Buck was an adventurer and animal collector. In the early 20th century he traveled the world capturing thousands of animals for zoos and circuses. Popular in his day, Frank Buck also appeared in Hollywood movies and productions featuring his exploits.
The Frank Buck Zoo is part of the larger Leonard Park. A miniature steam train takes visitors around the park’s mile long perimeter and operates on weekends. The park has picnic tables and grills for outdoor dining. The expansive playground structure at Leonard Park will delight youngsters with slides, swings and towers to climb. Its circus theme is not by chance. From 1930 to 1954, the city boasted a unique circus, the Gainesville Community Circus. Morton Smith wrote about the amateur circus in a 1934 Popular Mechanics article describing one circus performer, “Mabel Cunningham spends most of her day cooking meals, sweeping floors, making beds and catering to the whims of her four year-old son Tommy. When the day’s chores are done, however, she amuses herself by climbing a rope hand over hand some thirty feet and learning new and daring stunts on the Spanish Web.”
The circus encompassed a range of performers whose daytime jobs included student, housewife, postmaster and even the soda fountain attendant. The amateur circus entertained crowds at fairs throughout North Texas and Southern Oklahoma for over twenty years until a fire in 1954 destroyed most of its equipment. In a way, the circus remains in the form of the Frank Buck Zoo. Following the circus’ demise, the zoo was created to care for its animals.
Open daily, the Frank Buck Zoo is at 1000 California Street in Gainesville and can be contacted at 940-668-4539.