Known as the other alligator farm of St. Augustine, Casper’s was both similar and quite different to its nearby competition.
Opened sometime after World War II, Casper’s operated as a zoological attraction for about thirty years. Located “2 miles north of St. Augustine on US Route 1” it was just far enough outside of the old city to only occasionally make it on tourist maps.
It was owned by the Casper family. Brochures mention James Casper, Mrs. Alma J. Casper and Miss Dorothy Jean Casper. It’s uncertain but one might guess father, mother and daughter, a not uncommon situation for family-owned attractions in Florida.
Like many alligator farms of the time, it had a double purpose. They raised alligators and crocodiles for the skin trade and operated as a tourist attraction. Casper’s boasted they had 8000 alligators, which could certainly be true considering how alligator farms at the time piled hundreds of crocodilians into large pens so that the animals would seemingly have to live on top of one another.
The farm had many other animals over the years including crocodiles, snakes, ostriches, macaws, flamingos, emus, rheas, African crested cranes, Egyptian ducks, bobcats, “possums”, sun bears, Japanese deer, otters, lions, pheasants, chimpanzees, baboons, jaguars, African pelicans and even ground squirrels. It billed itself as the “International attraction of scientific and educational value”.
Casper’s ran a large gift shop that sold alligator leather shoes, handbags, belts, wallets and other items as well as the usual tourist items. Empty ostrich eggs were available and eventually they began offering live animals: Baby gators, South American caiman, mynah birds and baby monkeys! They also produced a mail-order catalog of items – either wholesale or retail.
One of their employees was F.W. Anderson, ostrich expert, who was listed as the originator of the “1914 Jacksonville ostrich race track.” Ostrich racing had been popular in Jacksonville prior to the first World War with at least one ostrich farm in the city that offered ostrich riding as well as racing with sulkies and carts. Casper’s brought ostriches and racing back to the area, this time adding a 1/8 mile race track to their property, though visitors were reminded that there was no betting allowed.
Casper’s modified its name several times over the years, calling itself Casper’s Alligator Jungle, Casper’s Ostrich and Alligator Farm, Casper’s Gator Jungle, Casper’s Gatorland, Gator Land, Gatorland Alligator Farm and Gatorland Animal and Bird Safari at one time of another.
As the attraction matured, they left behind the ostrich racing and added modern conveniences such as an air conditioned gift store, snack bar and covered walkways. They offered guided tours, snake venom milking demonstrations and alligator wrestling. Near the end, they also added a young Indian elephant and an Africa section with animals dedicated to that continent.
The zoo closed sometime around 1980 though it’s semi-famous roadside gator statue was saved. More information on that below.
It may have operated for a shorter time than the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, which was located only a few miles away on Anastasia Island, but it certainly provided interesting and unusual entertainment while it was open. As one of its brochures said: Casper’s offered “Informative relaxation”.
Whatever that means.