The Bongoland Night Thread

A single large block nestled into Port Orange’s suburbia contains a site called the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens. As its current name suggests, it is home to a historical sugar mill ruin (one of many scattered around Florida), as well as plenty of gardens and one very large old oak tree. All very respectable, dry, and historical. But from 1947 to 1952, the site was called Bongoland.

Bongoland was one of those misbegotten pre-theme-park parks that sometimes flourished but more often languished throughout Florida in the first half of the 20th century. It took its name from the star animal attraction, a large baboon. Other curiosities included a replica Native American village, the aforementioned sugar mill ruins, and a circumferential narrow gauge train. But the coolest thing, the thing that survives to this day and warrants the park’s mention in Atlas Obscura, is the giant inaccurately-sculpted concrete dinosaurs.

Commissioned by dermatologist and amateur dino enthusiast Richard Sperber (who had previously published a volume entitled Sex and the Dinosaur), the monolithic creatures were supposed to amaze and inspire, but it turned out static grey statues weren’t quite interesting enough to engage the public even back in 1947. The park closed as a tourist attraction in 1952, and some time later the land was acquired by a local conservancy and much was repurposed into a variety of small garden displays and venues for Eagle Scout projects. But the dinos remained.

Photo Credit (all the other ones are by me)

When I visited the Dunlawton Sugar Mill gardens recently, I was dismayed to find that the goofiest of the Sperber dinos, a gangly 20 foot tall T-Rex, was no longer intact, perhaps damaged in a hurricane. But the placid stegosaurus, bulky triceratops, and slightly creepy googly-eyed giant ground sloth (Pleistocene Florida’s most distinctive megafauna) were all present and correct, aging ever more out of their original pass at relevance and into a fossilized Floridiana, more intriguing for the curiosity of their very existence than for their portrayal of the creatures they tried to represent.

Concrete and chicken wire are not the most durable materials to stand up to the harsh Florida elements. Someday, likely not too far away, the Bongoland dinos will also go extinct.