Monday, August 4, 2014

Reptile Garden, Brackenridge Park

Remains of the front gate
The Reptile Farm had originally opened in 1933 in close proximity to the Witte Museum.  It would move twice before coming to this final location in 1939 when permanent stone structures replaced the temporary structures made of planks, barbed wire and old sheet metal.  The NYA assisted museum employees in constructing the large tank and surrounding snake houses.

These snake "apartments" featured steam heat to keep the snakes comfortable!
The first snake garden had opened on June 8, 1933, and was stocked with rattlesnakes captured on surrounding ranches and bought for 15 cents a pound, alligators that had been purchased at 50 cents a foot, and turtles. This was a solution for the abundance of snakes on area ranches and it provided income to the brave souls who rounded them up and brought them to the garden.  But the real benefit was for the Witte Museum.  Admission was 10 cents and within one week the garden had paid for itself; this was the Depression!  

The garden's popularity would continue throughout its existence.  A history of the Witte Museum states that it is believed that this was the first such facility in the United States. A popular attraction at the garden was a weekly rattlesnake fry; the last fry would be held on September 14, 1950.
Side of main entrance
South Texas was hit with a severe drought in the 1940's and snakes became scarce.  When the San Antonio Zoo opened their Reptile House the remaining snakes at the garden would be transferred to it in 1942.  The garden would switch to alligators as a substitute attraction; from 1952 until its closure in 1975 the garden displayed alligators and crocodiles. The snake garden closed when the manager, George Kimbrell, retired and took his collection to Arkansas.
The original roof structures are long gone, but the snake pits and other enclosures are still visible.  At the time of these pictures work was underway to remove debris and overgrown vegetation.  I doubt if there any plans to re-open the snake garden, but at least the structures are still visible and somewhat intact.  Their future remains to be determined.


  1. Thank you for posting this great historical exposé

  2. Cool beans! Thanks! Went by just a few minutes ago and tried to capture orbs around there. No luck.