Billed as the “World’s LARGEST Alligator Farm, Casper’s Gatorland Alligator Farm was located on US 1, just a few miles north of St. Augustine and A1A. In the 1940’s, it was known as the Ostrich and Alligator Farm. Opened in 1946, Gatorland closed in 1982.
What probably caught the eye of travelers riding on this part of US 1 was the 22-foot alligator at the entrance, holding a cigar. Referred to as Casper’s Iconic Roadside Smoke ‘n Gator, the concrete statue, sans cigar, now stands just off Gator Bowl Boulevard at Jacksonville’s Metro Park, walking distance from TIAA Bank Field, home of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars, the annual Florida-Georgia football game (aka the World’s LARGEST Cocktail Party, and the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Game.
The statue is featured on Roadside America.
Casper’s Gatorland should not be confused with Orlando’s Gatorland, a popular attraction that opened in 1949 and has survived the onslaught of Walt Disney World, unlike some other area attractions that are no more.
While Casper’s Gatorland is no more, it is possible to see former residents now at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm , located on A1A (the life span of an alligator can be that of a human). The last owner of Gatorland, David Drysdale, closed down the competition to St. Augustine Alligator Farm in 1982, which was then owned by his father, W.I. Drysdale since 1937; David Drysdale currently owns the St. Augustine Alligator Farm; where he moved the remaining alligators from Gatorland.
The Gatorland brochure advertised itself has having the LARGEST air-conditioned gift shop in the south, and even sold baby monkeys, mynah birds, and baby alligators (‘We ship anywhere”). It also sold alligator leather goods and ostrich plumes.
While the same could be said for the past of St. Augustine Alligator Farm, today it has a reputation as one of America’s top zoological parks.
“The park has grown from a little roadside attraction to a world-class American zoo accredited by the Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums…This distinction makes them a part of the elite club of 200 AZA-accredited zoos in North America, allowing them to be part of a cooperative breeding program instrumental in saving endangered species. (St. Augustine Record: “The Alligator Farm: From roadside attraction to accredited zoo” by Sue Bjorkman, September 11, 2014).
Information was provided by The Florida Times-Union: “Call Box: Metro gator once tourist attraction” by Sandy Strickland, March 5, 2017.