Vintage Postcards Show Scenes of Early Bronx Zoo, Botanical Garden

By Jeanmarie Evelly on September 2, 2012 4:06pm 

THE BRONX — It's a glimpse into a long-forgotten slice of New York life.

Hundreds of vintage postcards, depicting images of the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens that were collected over the last century have recently been published in an online archive by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).

The 450 images featured in the Bronx Park Postcard Collection date as far back as 1903, and show scenes of the two major park institutions through out the years, up until the 1980s.

"These postcards are a gateway to our past and they provide insight into our history," said Jim Breheny, the Bronx Zoo's director, in a statement. "This is a great way for the public to learn more about the evolution of the Bronx Zoo and the Bronx Park.”

Photographs and illustrations in the collection depict scenes of the Bronx River, the Botanical Garden's many lush landscapes and buildings and, of course, a slew of adorable zoo animals.

Originally intended as souvenir mementos from the two parks, the collection now serves as a historical record of how the institutions, and their surrounding neighborhoods, have changed over the years, officials said in a statement.

New York City purchased the lands for the two Bronx parks in the late 1880s, and in 1891, 250 acres were set aside by the State Legislature for the construction of the Botanical Garden, early scenes of which are now on view. Then the city allotted another 250 acres south of that to the New York Zoological Society (today, the Wildlife Conservation Society) for the purpose of a zoo in 1896.

In one postcard, dated 1903, three small children ride an Indian elephant named "Gunda," according to the photo's caption. One shows what the entrance to the Botanical Garden looked like in 1906. Another, from 1920, captures people strolling and sitting along the Bronx River, which is dotted with small recreational boats — from a time when a boathouse rented rowboats and motorboats to visitors, according to its caption.

Many of the cards still have their original inscriptions intact. A postcard showing a scene of people wading in the waterfalls along the Bronx River in West Farms, addressed to a Mrs. Frank Fredericks, reads: "Thought a sight of water might remind you of home. Why don't you write. Both have our usual colds."

Many of the 450 postcards in the collection were donated over the years by a longtime collector of Bronx Zoo memorabilia.

The images were scanned and digitally archived by staff at the Wildlife Conservation Society Library and The New York Botanical Garden's LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

The project took about eight months to prepare, and was funded by a Metropolitan New York Library Council Digitization Grant.

The collection can be viewed online here.

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