In case you didn’t know, according to Craig Pittman, the author of Oh Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, Florida has more fake dinosaurs than anywhere else in the world.
While many Floridians or visitors may think of Dinosaur World in Plant City (the largest dinosaur park in the USA), the Jurassic Park section at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, the Museum of Discovery & Science in Ft. Lauderdale, and several other science museums, what they may not know is there are still dinosaurs “roaming” in Port Orange that were once a part of Bongoland, a short-lived theme park (1947-1952).
Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens
We traveled back in time to Bongoland on one of our nature “walks”. We love to pick places we’ve never visited before and Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens was on our bucket list during one of our beach breaks to New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County (when you live in Central Florida and have a teenager who is a true Floridian, New Smyrna Beach is THE go-to place. It’s been that way since the 1980s).
Off we went for a peaceful walk with little expectations that there would be much kitsch remaining from Bongoland. We saw several prehistoric creatures and were really impressed with everything Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens had to offer.
The History of Bongoland
We did some research before we arrived and discovered that even before Bongoland, this land had quite a story. In 1804, a Bahamian immigrant named Patrick Dean purchased 995-acres of land with the objective of growing cotton, rice, and sugar cane. Unfortunately, his plans were short-lived when he died during the First Seminole Indian War in 1818.
The Dunlawton Sugar Mill was established in 1832 on Dean’s original land. A broker sold the old dean plantation to a woman named Sarah Anderson and her two sons, George and James. The name Dunlawton came from her maiden name, Dunn, and the land dealer’s name, Lawton. The mill was operated by slave labor until the fall of 1835. Shortly thereafter, the Second Seminole Indian War started and continued thru 1842 which caused the Sugar Mill to be pillaged.
The Original Bongoland
In 1948, Dr. Perry Sperber leased some of the lands. Sperber wanted to revive the place and turn it into a theme park. Bongoland included a replica Seminole Indian village, a miniature train that took visitors around the park, live animals including a huge baboon named Bongo and several life-sized dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. He enlisted Dr. Manny Lawrence to create these huge creatures, which he made out of chicken wire and concrete.
Sadly, this strange mishmash of a theme park just didn’t draw the kind of crowds needed to survive. In 1952, just five years after Bongoland opened, it permanently closed.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find some of the original concrete dinosaurs have withstood the test of time and are still around. They may be weathered, but they are definitely a part of old Florida history and have made the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Garden a unique destination.
Keep in mind these prehistoric creatures surround lots of gorgeous trees, greenery, and a serene garden that includes holly magnolias, succulents, ferns, and other native flora. There’s even a herb garden shaped like the state of Florida.
Sprinkled into the natural mix are several new kitschy treasures like a mini dinosaur on a bike, a bright blue bench, and other surprises. Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens is a wonderful place since there is something for everyone.
Visiting Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens
Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens is open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is FREE, but they appreciate donations (via a donation box when you enter/exit the property).
If you go, make sure you pick up a self-guided tour map before you set out on your adventure. Also, leave plenty of time so you can read the stories that are posted around the Gardens.
NOTE: The site listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 28, 1973.
Official Website: www.dunlawtonsugarmillgardens.org/