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Wade Park Zoo

Cleveland's Original Zoo

Jeptha Wade, whose fortune was largely derived from his establishment of the Western Union Telegraph, was a philanthropist whose generosity led to the creation of many cultural institutions in the Cleveland area. The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo owe a great deal to this portrait painter turned industrialist. He was also very involved in what became Case Western Reserve University and the Hathaway Brown School.

In the late nineteenth century, Cleveland was a booming city and men like Jeptha Wade, John D. Rockefeller and the Severance family wanted to bring culture and an appreciation of the arts to the community. The development of busy cities from rural areas changed the landscape. In the midst of the explosive urban growth, efforts were made to preserve nature and give residents an escape from the noise and bustle of the city by creating parks. A popular feature included in some of these urban located parks were zoos.

In 1882, Jeptha Wade gave Cleveland its first zoo. He donated over 70 acres of land from his estate and 14 deer along with their enclosure. This was the beginning of a zoo in what later became Wade Park. Along with the zoo attractions, Wade Park also housed a lagoon, tennis courts, picnic areas, and ball fields. The city added to the zoo population by purchasing 100 pigeons, two vultures and a seagull. Eventually, this early zoo became home for two black bears, elk, rabbits, two peccaries and a pair of lions. It contained the Deer Park, the Octagon Animal House, animal cages, a barn, a sea lion pool, and a carp pond.

With time, the zoo outgrew the space in Wade Park. A decision was therefore made by the City Council in 1907 to move the zoo to Brookside Park. Following the move, the original location of the zoo was redeveloped as part of the Natural History Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art projects.


Sea Lions at Wade Park Zoo Visitors and a deer look on as a pair of sea lions frolic in one of the zoo's popular attractions. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Braun Post Card Co. Date: ca. 1905
Deer House at Wade Park Zoo In 1884, the deer at the Wade Park Zoo moved into what became known as the Deer House. Remarkably charming, the Victorian-style structure has been the subject of many sketches through the years. It originally sat where the Botanical Garden is. Some descriptions list the building as the tool shed left over from the Wade estate. The building was later moved along with the zoo to the new Brookside location. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Girls Visit Animals at Wade Park Postcards were often used to promote tourism to cities and other areas, accomplishing this by using images of families enjoying local attractions. This postcard shows a group of girls viewing the animals at the Wade Park Zoo. Leisure time was a luxury but local parks could give families an escape from the noise and pollution common in the cities as industry grew and space became more limited. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Map of Wade Park The area that makes up Wade Park and its surrounding features has changed drastically since the land was originally donated by Jeptha Wade in 1882. The first item listed in the key is the Deer Park. The zoo began with the donation of 14 deer. Other entertainments are noted on the map. There was a music stand as well as a pavilion and picnic grounds. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Miss Columbus the Tiger The tiger Miss Columbus was one of the more exotic animals at the Wade Park Zoo. Early in U.S. Zoo history, if an animal was wanted and could not be purchased from another zoo or circus, an expedition might be taken to capture those animals in the wild. The Cleveland Zoo undertook such a trip in the 1950s, succeeding in capturing a number of animals that were subsequently put on display. Today, improved communication and cooperation between zoos and better breeding programs make safaris to capture animals a part of history. Source: Leedy Postcard Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Cleveland News Co. Date: ca. 1905
Geese at Wade Park Zoo The sight of geese in city ponds was becoming increasingly rare in areas that used their water ways for commercial and industrial purposes. The pond at the Wade Park Zoo gave visitors a chance to see geese and gave the birds a haven away from the power lines that could potential cause them harm. Source: J. Mark Souther Postcard Collection Creator: Cleveland News Co. Date: ca. 1905


East Blvd and Wade Oval Dr, Cleveland, OH | Closed permanently. The original Deer House is now at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.


Lisa Alleman, “Wade Park Zoo,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 4, 2023,