(This essay and slide-show was contributed by one of our Web Site visitors, Yvon Hawke. Thanks Yvon!)
Do you remember a certain insect roller coaster? Or, riding a camel or even an elephant? How about putting around in a paddleboat in the dock pond? If these sound familiar, then you're probably thinking of a place that closed down in 1987... Benson's Animal Farm out in Hudson.
I went there today.
This past week, a trainee of mine had lived in South Carolina for a long time until 9 months ago when she returned to New Hampshire and decided to stay. I asked if she happened to remember Bensons from years back and she did. Then my desire to find out information about the park and its current condition. Boy, I found out a lot.
Benson's closed in 1987 after faltering income and a fruitless expansion effort by the newest owners of the time, Riverside out of Agawam, Mass., now Six Flags. Benson's had been open for 50 years or so by the time it closed its gates for good. My family had gone there a few times when I was younger. I remember the kiddie coaster and the Round-Up ride where I rode so much, this one day, I felt so nauseous... must have been a good hour on the thing. I also remember we lost my younger brother... we had accidentally left him in the monkey house to go see the elephant show nearby. It wasn't until after the show that we realized he wasn't with us. We ultimately found him back at our picnic table crying because he had gotten lost. But he was smart to go back there thinking that's where'd we be. But when he found us not there, that's when he got upset. I remember that vividly. I also remember riding the teacups down by the pond.
I parked my car nearby the entrance as the entrance was gated off from vehicles. But, there wasn't anything to keep me from going in. There are no "No Trespassing" signs, so free reign, thank you! I walked down the entrance driveway to the parking area. I remember this area fairly well as the treeline hadn't changed much in the past 20 years. My brother had lost his mylar helium balloon in the parking area the same day he got lost and I remember looking up and watching it fly away as he started crying again... it was a real bad day for him. I had a mylar balloon, also, so when we got home, I did my darnedest to pop the thing because I didn't want it because he lost his. I wanted so much to destroy that thing. Mylar's tough stuff to pop when you're only 60 pounds. But, I remember the treeline from that experience.
I walked into the park and took a right on the paved path and came across a concession building. Checked out the inside; it had been destroyed by vandals (duh), but tried to remember if I had ever eaten there. I left the building after taking some pictures and continued down the overgrown path until I eventually found myself at the midpoint of the duck pond. I couldn't believe the good condition it was in. The algae wasn't all that bad and the hardware for the pond's sprinkler system still appeared to be in place. I wasn't about to go walking out in the middle of the pond to find out, though. But, the path going across this midpoint had collapsed and I could have jumped across easily, but I chose to back up and walk along the edgepath northward until I got to the part I remember better. But, with the overgrowth, it was very difficult to visualize my exact location.
Walking along I came across a gapped part of the pavement, I assumed this was either part of the old train ride track bed or an electrical line ditch to supply power to the rides because on the other side I found myself on a spot where there was once a ride. I don't know which one but I took a picture.
I continued on and found myself back in the brunt of the overgrowth. This is when I started finding all the little footbridges, walls of exhibit areas, etc. I was very impressed as to the great condition they were in. No moss was growing on them, the wood was still fresh looking and strong. The stone walls were completely intact. It was kinda funky! I also had thoughts of Isla Sorna from the Jurassic Park sequels! Heheheh.
I soon ended up at the Old Lady Shoe and snapped a picture. Then I was at another concessions area near the main town road and maintenance entrance. These building were in pretty good condition. Looking into one of them, I saw there was a pallet of something STILL SHRINK WRAPPED! And, the plastic looked fresh since it was protected from the weather. Not too shabby for 20 years of inactivity, I think. Natural deterioration of the buildings' superstructures, mainly roofs, was clearly apparent on places. One had partially caved in at a barn-like building. I believe it's the gorilla and snake house.
But I moved along taking pictures as I went and came across a guy with his little kids, also on the property. They were just checking the place out like I was. but they weren't taking pictures. There was also an old man way back towards the beginning who was cutting something like flowers from overgrown orchid bushes or something like that.
I found some more interesting spots with fencing or rails and snapped pictures before it was time to head back and go to work for the night. I returned to my car and I left a dear place from my childhood behind again. I'll be going back very soon because I didn't get to spend the amount of time I really would have liked to. Also, I'd like to go in with some kind of map from when the facility was open.
I've done some research and found that the town of Hudson wants to revive the property as a park, again. There are two designated Clean-Up days, one in Spring and one in Fall, which is for volunteers to go in and pick up any trash people have left there and to keep the place from being completely overgrown. There's a three-phase plan to rebuild the park and to restore the buildings that can be. Other recreational additions are planned and the overgrowth cleared out. I really hope this happens because I'd really like to be able to go back and see it full of people again. But the town has to fight with the state first over the deed to the property, according to what I've read.
There is a memorial website, of sorts, dedicated to Bensons. You can find it at http://www.bensonsanimalfarm.com/. I also have all of my pictures on MySpace and in their own album.
It was great to be there again and to be able to walk around and check things out. But, it was also very saddening to see it in such disrepair. I really do hope it's revived and usable again, someday.
Saturday, June 30, 2007