History of Potter Park Zoo

Potter Park Zoo will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2020! From its humble beginnings to its prominence as a leading attraction in mid-Michigan, Potter Park Zoo has seen a multitude of exciting changes.

1915 – 1930
1931 – 1950
1951 – 1970
1971 – 2000
2001 – Present


J.W. and Sarah Potter donated 58 acres of land to the City of Lansing which later became known as Potter Park.

The official dedication ceremony was held July 4, 1915.


Due to the popularity of Potter Park, Mr. & Mrs. Potter contributed an additional 27 acres, increasing the park’s size to 85 acres.


Mr. Potter, concerned with southeastern Lansing’s development, encouraged the City of Lansing to spend $20,000 to extend the street car line to Mt. Hope Cemetery, making the park and additional land accessible.


Elk, transferred from Moore’s Park, became the first animal residents of the new Potter Park Zoo. Later that year, Charles Davis bestowed to the Zoo several other animals, including a bear, a pair of raccoons, and several deer.


Sophie Turner, a Lansing resident, presented 17 acres to the City of Lansing for Potter Park, bringing the Zoo’s total acreage to 102.


The Bird House, later renamed the Bird and Reptile House, was completed.


Construction was completed on the Lion House.


The Depression brought tough times for all, but the Zoo managed to obtain Federal Funds to build Monkey Island.


By now, Potter Park Zoo was visited by more than 120,000 people and operated on an annual budget of $7,500.


The first aviary was introduced.


The barnyard was completed.


The Zoo’s animal collection dramatically grew in size with the addition of tigers, baboons, kangaroos and otters.


Potter Park Zoo had fallen into disrepair during the 1960s when it experienced financial hardships. Help came in 1969 when Jim Hough, a columnist for the Lansing State Journal, brought together local residents to form the Friends of the Zoo Society, a group dedicated to help fundraise for the Zoo.


The Friends of the Zoo Society raised $4,453 to purchase Bingo, the Zoo’s first elephant.


The Zoo railroad began offering rides for 25 cents.


Plans were started to build a new Aviary.


Sonny and Butch, twin African Lion cubs, were born at the Zoo.


Tombi the elephant was purchased for $15,400.


The newly renovated Aviary opened to the public after 6 years of planning.


A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Penguin Exhibit. The exhibit was to house 9 pairs of South American Penguins.


The Friends of the Zoo became the Potter Park Zoological Society.

Construction was completed and the penguin exhibit was opened for visitors.

The first Docent class of 12 adults graduated


Spider Monkeys were placed in a new Monkey Island exhibit funded by the Association of Women Builders.  

With a $100,000 donation from Harold Gross, work began on the Lion House.


The grand reopening of the Lion House, which was renamed the Feline/Primate Building

Tombi the elephant was transferred to the Indianapolis Zoo.


The residents of the City of Lansing overwhelmingly approved a 1 mill parks levy for five years to help support the zoo.  

The first 5K Rhino Walk was held to help raise money for the Zoo’s rhino exhibit.


The Farmyard renovation project was completed and opened to the public in September. A new Pony Path was also constructed replacing the old ring ride.

Goff Food Stores sponsored first Goff Zoo Days at the Zoo, an event that would later go on to become Potter Park Zoo’s biggest summer attraction.

Rare triplet Amur tiger cubs were born.


A new restaurant/restroom concession building opened for business. The Potter Park Zoological Society also held the first Wonderland of Lights holiday event.


Wolf Woods and the Trappers Cabin were officially opened after extensive renovation of the old wolf exhibit.


The Zoo kicks of its 75th birthday celebration with the unveiling of a new master plan.


Two Species Survival Plan snow leopard cubs were born at the zoo.


The new Entry Plaza and the Discovery Center opened to the public.


The Rotary Club of Lansing donated $50,000 to build a new Vet Clinic at the Zoo.


Ivan, the Zoo’s mascot and the oldest living Amur Tiger in North America, succumbs to old age. Ivan was 20 years old.


The Zoo Society’s first Big Zoo Party was held.


A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new River Otter and Arctic Fox exhibit.

The new Corals, Conservation and Clownfish exhibit housed in the Discovery Center opened to the public.

Three critically endangered tiger cubs were born at the zoo. The triplets were so popular that they were later featured on the NBC Today show.


Construction was completed and the new River Otter and Arctic Fox exhibit was opened to the public.

Later that year, Ingham County residents approved a county wide millage in favor of the zoo.


Ingham County took over in July as the managing and supporting entity of the zoo. The Potter Park Zoo Advisory Board was created with the appointment of nine area residents to serve in an advisory capacity to the Ingham County Parks and Recreation Commission.

Potter Park Zoo renews its AZA accreditation.


The New American Bald Eagle Exhibit opened to the public.

Veterinarian and Animal Curator Dr. Tara Harrison was certified by the American
College of Zoological Medicine, placing her in an elite group of just 100 worldwide and making her the state’s first female Diplomate and Michigan’s only board certified veterinarian working at a zoological institution.


The largest class of Docents, with 27 students, graduated from the Zoo’s Docent training program in April.

In May, Potter Park Zoo opened its new Wings from Down Under exhibit, an interactive Aviary that allows Zoo guest to get an up close view of more than 500 Australian birds.

Work began on a new Zoo Master Plan.