Caldwell Zoo is the culmination of one man’s vision and love of children. It started in 1937, when David King Caldwell opened a Child Development Laboratory at his home. The playschool—complete with parrots, monkeys, squirrels and more—was a huge hit that soon grew to host a variety of animals and span a patchwork of buildings and land. Mr. Caldwell’s vision of a proper zoo for the children of east Texas was realized in 1953, when Caldwell Zoo officially opened on the site it occupies today. Early Zoo residents included a lion and chimpanzee who had retired from careers in television.
Completion of a master plan in 1976 provided a new entrance complex, elephant facility, giraffe barn and other animal environments. A 15-acre native Texas area and Texas farm opened in 1983, followed by the Texas reptile and aquarium building. In 1987, the Zoo added hoofstock barns, a modern elephant facility (converting the existing elephant facility to accommodate rhinos) and the Overlook plaza.