gatorland
A postcard from the 1960s, which shows how the place looks in it’s heyday.

Beginning in Miami’s Little Havana and ending at the small town of Havana, FL near the Georgia border, Highway 27 was the road in which millions of post-war tourists and migrants first ventured across the state. Now just a long stretch of road spanning across miles of sugar fields, it was once the backbone of Florida’s tourism industry; before Disney World existed and odd roadside attractions were the norm.

Just south of the town of South Bay on US 27 are what remains of Everglades Gatorland, a small roadside zoo which became known for their live alligators. It began as a gas station run by J.C. Bowen, former mayor of South Bay and his wife Mary Lou. Because tourists who stopped at the station would ask where they can see alligators and other native Florida animals, they started Gatorland in 1959 with alligators caught in the lake just behind the building. They would eventually expand and acquire exotic animals such as ocelots, coatimundi and a king vulture.

Everglades Gatorland | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

In the 1960s, alligator poaching had gotten out of hand. In 1965, poachers used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot and carry off three alligators from Gatorland while the night watchman was off-duty. The American Alligator was put on the first endangered species list in 1967.

That same year, Florida was the first in the country to establish new regulations for captive animals which covered minimum pen size for each group of animals, sanitation and animal care. These new regulations put many roadside zoos out of business, but Gatorland were able to meet the requirements and stay in business. The establishment stayed strong throughout the 70s and 80s. By the 90s though, there weren’t any gators left as the time and cost to care for them wasn’t worth it. Business wasn’t booming anymore as the Bowens continued selling souvenirs to the rare tourist who would use the restroom or ask for directions.

Near the lake where the alligators were caught, the concrete pens and cages which held the animals remain and the souvenir shop still sits on the side of Highway 27, gutted and overgrown, with a faded sign still advertising “Live Alligators”.




8 Comments

  1. Small attractions need to make a comeback. This was the heartbeat of America and over the last 20-30 years we have been going in the wrong direction and need to make a u-turn. Spending time with family and friends is what is important and not how much money we have.

  2. Excellent site, photos, and info. I visit abandoned Florida places also. The ultimate concern for me is snakes. Explore slow. Be safe and careful everyone. All the best.

  3. hi, my parents use to work at gatorland back in the day… it use to have a certain smell and whenever i smell that smell it always reminds me of gatorland… i remember a monkey got out of his cage and got into a power gate and died :(

  4. Got to see it about a year ago on a road trip from Tampa-Miami-New Mexico. Pretty neap place.

  5. what i hate about these abandoned places are the snakes and creepy legends that go with them

  6. I drive by here frequently and have always wondered about the history. Thanks for posting it and the pictures.

  7. Nadine Francis

    I remember when this was open many years ago. Quite the “Tourist Trap” with the Orange Marmalades, plastic and rubber alligators and post cards. Things were so much simpler then!

  8. I remember in the 60’s my parents would bring us to Florida for Christmas Vacation and we’d hit every Alligator “Farm” in the state! Such Wonderful memories, thank you!