Thursday, August 12, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday- Benson Park in Hudson, New Hampshire

In the late 1800’s John Benson ran a trolley company amusement park in Lexington, Massachusetts. When it closed in 1921 he opened an animal training center in Hudson, New Hampshire in 1924, and opened to visitors in 1926. There were zoo animals, a train ride and an arcade. He expanded it in the 1930s with a permanent circus and a “Jungle Train” from Boston on Sundays. This was the beginnings of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, an attraction generations of New Englanders enjoyed and remembered.

The park was bought by the Boston Garden Corporation after his death in 1943 and reopened after World War II. In 1979 it was sold to Arthur Provencher who retained the animal farm and did not want to turn it into an amusement park. He declared bankruptcy in 1985 and in 1987 changed it to an amusement park “New England’s Playworld Amusement Park and Zoo.” The park went out of business at the end of its first season.

An advertisement for the last days of New England Playworld
in the 1987 Manchester Union Leader Newspaper

In 1989 the state of New Hampshire acquired the property, and sold it to the town of Hudson in 2009. There is a historical society that has an exhibit at the park, in the old train station, with artifacts and photographs. The town plans to develop the land into athletic fields, walking trails and conservation land, while preserving the old buildings as a museum. In 2004 the town of Hudson and local citizens won the “Elizabeth Durfee Hengen Award” from the Timber Framer’s Guild for the preservation and stewardship of the former Benson’s Park. Since the park closed in 1987, all but three of the historic park buildings were lost to decay and neglect.
Just this past April Ken Matthews of Hudson founded “Friends of Benson Park” to raise funds. This is a private organization to help the town save Benson Park without raising tax money. About 200 volunteers show up on a regular basis to clean up the park, painting some of the old buildings, clearing brush and removing graffiti and signs of vandalism. The giant toy soldiers were removed and now appear on the Hudson town common at Christmas time. You can still visit the park at 27 Kimball Hill Road, Hudson, New Hampshire from 5 AM to 8PM year round.

For more information: New Hampshire Magazine website, July 30, 2010, article by Darren Garnick

The Timber Framer’s Guild announcement of the 2004 Award to the Town of Hudson for the former Benson’s Park preservation project

Listen to the National Public Radio story on the preservation project for the private fundraising organization to help save Benson Park

Remembering Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, by Robert Goldsack, Midway Publications, Nashua, NH (a 60 page book) for sale for $17 each at the Hudson Historical Society


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Heather - Oh my goodness, my family and I use to go to Benson's Wild Animal Farm every year when I was a kid. I know I have slides from there somewhere. Maybe I'll use a photo on one of my Wordless Wednesday posts sometime. On the rare occassion I drive through Hudson these days, usually on the way to Maine, I always think of Benson's.

    1. My wife and I used to bring our kids to Benson's, many, many years ago, it was a nice place close by to spend a Summer day..........knowing that it is still open, we will make it a point to come down from Eliot, Maine, for a visit
      and relieve some memories.

    2. Dear Anonymous, the park is open and is a town park run by the town of Hudson. There are no more animals, but some of the buildings, such as the train station, the Shoe, the elephant barn and the gorilla house are now being run as museums by the historical society. The entire area has recreation paths, sports fields and gardens run by volunteers. Please check the "Friends of Benson" website listed above for more information and updates on this on-going project.