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Historical Picture of the Alligator Farm on Anastasia Island

The Alligator Farm and the Burning Spring

Florida and alligators are a combination almost as well-known as ham and eggs.

When the startled Spaniards first beheld the giant reptiles, they gave them their name-"El Lagarto," the lizard. As Florida began to blossom as a haven for winter-weary northerners, nearly everyone clamored to see (1) an orange grove, and (2) a real live alligator. Some people, once across the state line, even expressed surprise that the big saurians were not lolling along every roadside.

No one can quite explain the charm of the alligator. He is not smart (the brain is dime-sized) and he is not lively. Some gators breathe just eight times a day, and nearly all of them spend approximately 95 per cent of their day absolutely motionless. Nevertheless, people are enchanted with them and the first man to turn this penchant into a profitable business was Joseph "Alligator Joe" Campbell.

In 1891 he opened the first alligator farm in Palm Beach, choosing a swampy area where the fashionable Worth Avenue is located today. This one was so popular he soon opened another in Jacksonville on the spot where the Prudential's skyscraper offices now rise.

Down in St. Augustine, two local citizens, Felix Fire and George Reddington had penned up a few captured gators near an amusement park on South Beach near where the fishing pier is today. They did not charge people to look at the gators, but soon observed how many people came to see them, and realized they had the makings of a profitable business.

In 1893, at a site near Salt Run, which today is under water about half a mile offshore, they opened the South Beach Alligator Farm and Museum of Marine Curiosities. Their place was along the route of the little two-car steam operated railway, by means of which most patrons reached the beach resorts. If you look closely (and know where to look), the right-of-way of the trolley line can still be seen on the amphitheater grounds.

To start with they had just 40 gators, but there was an added attraction, "the burning spring," which many people still remember today. This strange mixture of flammable gas and water was lighted each day by an attendant when the farm was opened for visitors to come in.

Fire and Reddington operated their farm by the burning spring for many years before it was relocated at its present site at the intersection of AlA and Young Avenue. In 1937 it was purchased by F. C. Usina and W. I. Drysdale who combined their "herd" with Alligator Joe's collection of gators in Jacksonville, which they also purchased, to form the present St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

As nearly as anyone can tell, the big saurians are happy in their luxurious concrete pens, where they are safe from poachers who covet their skins for illegal handbags, shoes and belts and where approximately 250,000 people file by each year to admire them.

alligator wrestlers


 
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