A popular mid-century tourist attraction was the roadside zoo or animal park. The Lake of the Ozarks region in Missouri didn’t escape the “monkey see - monkey do” fad of ma and pa roadside zoos. The Lake area had its share of animal parks and one of the more popular and successful zoos was Max Allen’s Zoological Gardens.
Just a few miles south of Eldon - Max Allen’s Zoological Gardens was a very popular tourist attraction and was usually the first stop for most Highway 54 travelers that were spending their vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks. This herpetologist’s dream spot opened in 1951 as the Ozark Reptile Gardens in a large rock building.
The name would eventually be changed to Max Allen’s Zoological Gardens named after the owner’s son, Max Allen Nickerson. (Max grew up to become an accomplished herpetologist and author.)
The owners were the founders of Nickerson Farms. The popular chain of roadside restaurants with the familiar A-frame red roofed building.
A wide-eyed kid or a squeamish mom could view more than 300 different varieties of snakes and lizards. One of the main attractions was to see the Galapagos Turtles. Children were given the opportunity to ride these giant turtles and the most popular turtle was George. George was kind of the unofficial mascot of the zoo. Besides the reptiles, Max Allens also had seals, exotic birds, and monkeys.
Every month one lucky tourist got to take home the ultimate souvenir in the form of a friendly monkey. That’s right, there was a drawing every month for a monkey and here’s the proof on the back of this postcard.
I haven’t heard if this was a real monkey or if the winner was awarded a little monkey statue. I have a feeling it was a real monkey, since this was during the same time you could order live monkeys out of comic book ads.
Check out this old 1960's amateur film of a family’s trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. The beginning features Max Allens!
I’m not sure when Max Allen’s closed its doors, but I believe it might’ve been in the mid-1970's after they moved to a different location.
The rock building still exists, but nature is reclaiming the property. It looks more like a home for Sleestaks than a once popular roadside attraction. I just snapped these photos last week.
The sign that was originally on the front of the building has been reassembled as a makeshift wall.
At one time this building was full of life from the animal kingdom to the tourist kingdom and now it’s like something from the History Channel’s new TV show Life After People.
If you have any memories of this classic Lake of the Ozarks attraction, be sure to leave a comment.