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This Day in Georgia History

March 28, 1889

Beginning of First Zoo in Atlanta

Atlanta lumber dealer George V. Gress and railroad contractor Thomas J. James attended an auction of a bankrupt traveling circus at the Fulton County courthouse. The two joined together for the winning bid of $4,485. James wanted the circus wagons and railroad cars for his business, while Gress was interested in the collection of circus animals - which consisted of four lions, two wildcats, two deer, two monkeys, two snakes, and one each of the following: a hyena, gazelle, raccoon, elk, Mexican hog, camel, and dromedary. A few days later, Gress offered the animals and their cages to the city of Atlanta. Several days after that, the city council accepted and decided to locate the animals in Grant Park. Gress then took responsibility for building a large brick building and outdoor cages to house the animals, giving Atlanta its first zoo. Gress’ generosity did not end here. In 1893, he and Charles Northern purchased the cyclorama painting of the Battle of Atlanta, which they placed in Grant Park for public viewing. Over the next six years, Gress donated the $12,000 in admissions to see the cyclorama for use in helping Atlanta’s poor children. In 1898, Gress donated the painting to the city of Atlanta. In 1921, the city built a permanent facility - known as the Cyclorama - for the painting in Grant Park.