History of Nashville Zoo

Since construction around 1810, the Croft House was the heart of a family farm known as Grassmere. Built by Col. Michael C. Dunn and passed down through five generations, the Croft House now sits as the centerpiece of the Grassmere Historic Farm at the Nashville Zoo. The last two owners of Grassmere, sisters Margaret and Elise Croft, never married and had no descendants to pass the farm to, and in 1964 decided to donate their 300-acre property, including their home, to the Children’s Museum of Nashville (now the Adventure Science Center.) The museum promised to help with the upkeep of the home and pay the property taxes while the Croft sisters lived out their lives there, and also agreed to the sisters’ wishes of maintaining the land as a nature center.

After Elise Croft’s death in 1985, the museum began development of Grassmere Wildlife Park, which opened in 1990. In 1991, Nashville Zoo, a separate organization, opened its doors in Joelton. In 1995, the museum chose to close Grassmere Wildlife Park and focus on the museum site, which resulted in the property changing ownership to the city of Nashville. The city was still bound by the will of the Croft sisters to maintain the site as a nature center, and in 1996 the city of Nashville, led by then-Mayor Phil Bredesen, offered Nashville Zoo the opportunity to relocate the zoo from Joelton and develop a “new” zoo for Nashville on the Grassmere property. Relocating the existing zoo would take several years, but the unique opportunity to develop a new zoo on 200 acres of mostly undeveloped land was too good to pass up. The combination of more land and a more central location convenient to a larger visitor base were key decisions for the relocation.

Today, Nashville Zoo is the number-one paid attraction in Middle Tennessee, and our attendance has increased by over 1,000 percent since opening our doors at the Grassmere property in 1997. From African elephants and Caribbean flamingos to Bengal tigers and red pandas, Nashville Zoo is home to more than 6,200 animals from all over the world. Our master plan will expand the park into the remaining acreage of Grassmere, and when complete, Nashville Zoo will be one of the largest zoos in the country.

Historical Timeline

  • 1990 – Grassmere Wildlife Park opens to the public
  • March 21, 1991 – Nashville Zoo opens to the public in Cheatham County
  • December 1994 – Grassmere Wildlife Park closes to the public due to low attendance
  • December 1996 – Nashville Zoo agrees to take over management of Grassmere property
  • May 1, 1997 – Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere opens to the public under Nashville Zoo management
  • June 1997 – Jungle Gym opens
  • May 1998 – Unseeen New World opens
  • May 1998 – Historic Home and Farm opens
  • October 18, 1998 – Nashville Zoo closes in Cheatham County focusing all development at the Grassmere property
  • October 1999 – New entrance, gift shop and restrooms open (Entry Village)
  • July 2000 – Critter Encounters opens
  • January 1, 2001 – Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere officially becomes Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
  • April 2001 – Gibbon Islands opens
  • June 2001 – Hyacinth Macaw opens
  • May 2002 – Meerkat opens
  • September 2002 – Bamboo Trail opens
  • March 2004 – The Zoo receives accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • April 2005 – African Elephant Savannah opens
  • October 2005 – Lorikeet Landing opens
  • October 2005 – Wild Animal Carousel opens
  • April 2006 – Giraffe Savanna opens
  • July 2006 – Alligator Cove opens
  • July 2010 – Tapir opens
  • August 2010 – Flamingo Lagoon opens
  • May 2011 – Wilderness Express opens
  • September 2013 – Kangaroo Kickabout Opens
  • May 2014 – Cassowary relocates to new exhibit across from Kangaroo Kickabout