|City/Town: • Clinton • Dennard|
|Location Class: • Commercial • Church|
|Year Built: • 1967|
|Year Abandoned: • 1979|
|Status: • Abandoned • Restored|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Eddy Sisson • James Kirkendall|
This historic attraction had a short but vibrant life span. The story, however, is far from over; Hallie Orman first constructed the zoo in 1967 with hopes to attract people from all over Arkansas. When the zoo first opened, it featured a miniature train vessel that was that had the tallest miniature train tracks in the world. In total Orman had 6000 acres of land between both counties and a vast majority of it was used for the zoo. The zoo featured an ice cream shop, gift shop, restaurant, and had animals that ranged from lions to tigers to bears (Oh my!), spider monkeys and many other animals. Hallie’s zoo continued to have productive business until the late 70s, when Orman sold the roadside attraction to a man from Texas. The new owner made a few changes to the zoo that lead to a decline in guests.
The final strike was in 1979 when the lion’s cage was left open. The animal then escaped to nearby farms and was seen by many neighboring farmers. Two weeks after the escape, the tame lion returned to his cage to be fed again. Even though the lion did not harm any of the cattle or residence, there were complaints to the city sheriff’s office. Van Buren has a law that states that you cannot have any exotic animals in the county. This included zoos, however, Orman had a lot of political connections and respect from both Searcy County and Van Buren County. When the zoo changed hands, the owner didn’t have the same connections which, along with the lion escape, led to the forcible shutdown of the zoo. All of the animals within were shipped to zoos all across America. Hallie’s zoo then abandoned altogether.
The property sat rotting for many years until it was reopened as a restaurant. Only the main building of the zoo was used and the rest of the zoo remained in the state of decay. Shortly after that, in the late 2000s, the restaurant closed and left the zoo once again left forgotten.
The Zoo Church
The zoo and restaurant closing does not mean the story is over, it’s simply the beginning of a new chapter. This new chapter starts with a need for a new church building; similar to the movie “We Bought a Zoo,” Rick Montgomery plays the part of Matt Damon in real life. After filtering out other possible locations, Montgomery one day passed by the old zoo and was immediately attached. From the very beginning when purchasing the old property, he was already planning new and creative ideas to use the zoo to help preach his message and make it fun for the the congregation.
As of August 2014, Montgomery and his church have renovated the three main buildings for the zoo and plan on using the old part for different ways to preach his message. Montgomery has expressed that he is excited to be able to preserve what he considers an important landmark to Arkansas.
Article written by Wells Thompson – AAR staff
To see pictures of the renovated church please visit: ArkansasTies