Stone State Park, nestled in the Loess Hills in Sioux City, is a place for people of all ages to hike and play. But where the playgrounds and shelters stand today, a zoo once drew visitors.
The zoo began as a farm owned by a naturalist named Daniel Talbot. Haley Aguirre is with the Sioux City Public Museum. She says Talbot conducted genetic experiments.
“He had a big farm. He raised all kinds of plants and animals on that farm. And that land where his farm was would end up being the zoo later,” Aguirre said. “He would allow people to come see his animals for a small fee.”
Talbot went bankrupt in 1893 and sold his land to the Stone Family. A few years later, the zoo was born.
“The son of the guy who had purchased the property started building what is now the park. Developed the animal cages, started developing the roads and stuff like that,” said Jason Dykstra, the Park Ranger for Stone State Park. “The City of Sioux City bought the land in 1912 and they finished making the roads, finished building the zoo.”
The center of Stone State Park, called the Dakota Valley, was where a majority of the animal enclosures were located.
“I know they had for sure bears, I’ve heard wolves, there’s an old photo of a caretaker, there’s a picture of him with a badger,” Dykstra said.
At first, the zoo started off with the animals Talbot had on his farm, like buffalo and cattle. But it soon expanded.
“Eventually it grew to kind of expand to all different kinds of animals,” said Aguirre. “From local animals like bears, wildcats, cows, elk, deer to more exotic things like monkeys and ostriches.”
The zoo was a popular attraction because of its exotic animals.
“Unless the circus came to town it was one of the only places to see that kind of thing so I feel like it was pretty popular with the people of Sioux City at the time,” Aguirre told us.
So why did the zoo shut down? After the city sold the land to the State of Iowa, the upkeep for the exotic animals became too expensive, and by the time World War 2 began, the zoo was gone.
Today, concrete slabs from the bear cages and the metal foundations of the monkey cages are all that remain of the Sioux City Zoo.