New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoo Will Turn 130 Years Old in 2024
New Bedford's Buttonwood Park Zoo has seen good times and bad times. It has also seen the faces of hundreds of thousands of wide-eyed children pass through spanning generations and countless changes over the many years.
The Buttonwood Park Zoo is the 12th-oldest zoo in the nation and the third-oldest in New England.
The zoo will turn 130 years old in 2024.
Benjamin Harrison was President of the United States in 1892 when the City of New Bedford acquired land in the West End for Buttonwood Park. Two years later, in 1894, Grover Cleveland replaced Harrison in the White House, and the Buttonwood Park Zoo opened to the public.
There have been 23 U.S. Presidents since Buttonwood Park Zoo opened. In 2024, there will be another election, and the zoo will celebrate its 130th anniversary.
My colleague Kasey Silvia wrote a piece in 2019 about the zoo's 125th-anniversary celebration. Plans for the 130th are in the works.
Throughout the decades since the 1930s, there have been upgrades and renovations to the Buttonwood Park Zoo. By the 1990s, conditions at the zoo were so poor that the national media and the federal government were demanding the zoo be closed.
Then-Mayor Rosemary Tierney and the New Bedford City Council committed to a significant investment to reconstruct and rehabilitate the zoo.
After being closed to the public for several years, the newly revitalized and re-imaged Buttonwood Park Zoo re-opened in 2003. It has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Zoos and has been ranked among the nation's best small zoos ever since.
For many years, the Buttonwood Park Zoo has been known for its two most famous residents. Emily, the Asian elephant, arrived at the zoo in 1967. Ruth, another Asian elephant, joined Emily in 1987.
While Emily and Ruth's time in captivity has been controversial to some, to others they have been the heart and soul of the zoo. A child of 10 when Emily first arrived at Buttonwood Park Zoo 56 years ago may take his grandchildren to see Emily today.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time working part-time with the dedicated folks who run the Buttonwood Park Zoo. I look forward to hearing what they have planned for the 130th anniversary celebration in 2024.