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The Shade Swamp Nature Trail and Sanctuary is a forgotten New Deal project developed in Farmington, Connecticut during the 1920s and 1930s. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) created a variety of projects during the years of the 1930s and 1940s. Time has shown the CCC was a positive source in the country during the Great Depression, although at the time not everyone was convinced it would be. The Shade Swamp Nature Trail was only a small part of this movement that transformed America but it was a great experiment in many ways. History remembers the sanctuary as the little zoo. Located on Route 6, it is almost forgotten except for an occasional article and is barely noticed when driving by it. The sanctuary created a unique place for wildlife and plants. Shade Swamp Nature Trail and its New Deal projects did not survive the passage of the years very well.

Shade Swamp Nature Trail sign in parking area

Shade Swamp Nature Trail sign in parking area

Shelter built by CCC in 1934

Shelter built by CCC in 1934

cage for Shade Swamp Zoo

cage for Shade Swamp Zoo

more cages for Shade Swamp Zoo

more cages for Shade Swamp Zoo

On March 27, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the Senate Bill 5.598 presented to Congress. This was the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW). Both houses approved the bill and it passed on March 31st. With the signing of Executive Order No. 6101 by the President Roosevelt the name was changed to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC had to fight against complaints and fears of labor unions. In the final analysis, the CCC provided work to young men. President Roosevelt then created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) on May 6, 1935 with Executive Order No. 7034, under authority of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. Both of these had to fight fought political opponents in their goals. The results of their labor have lasting effect in the projects even to the present day. The Shade Swamp Nature Trail with its Sanctuary and its small zoo was aided from actions of the New Deal.

The Shade Swamp Sanctuary was developed during the 1920s and 1930s from several land acquisitions. The approximate 800-acre preserve contained the “Farmington Zoo.” Originally created as a wildlife rehabilitation center and a sanctuary for animals it became a hospital for injured animals. Once healed they were released back to their wildlife habitats. The animals in the zoo consisted of birds, wolves, and bears. The Sanctuary (zoo) was also set up with a breeding program of raccoons for hunters. The State Board of Fisheries and Game made the Sanctuary (zoo) a state rabbit farm. The WPA worked on several projects within the Sanctuary (zoo). It built cages and dens for the wildlife and landscaped the Bird and Animal area. In 1934, the CCC built a wooden shelter for the sanctuary.

Even though, the Shade Swamp Sanctuary planned for a natural type of environment it only had a brief history. In 1933, the Hartford Courant reported a concern with the lack of funds that would end the zoo. However, even with the financial concerns, the sanctuary demonstrated a popular place to view animals by the public. The Courant reported that within a few years thousands of people had visited the Sanctuary. Groups visited and assisted the Sanctuary.

A group of 27 boys from Middletown took part in improving the Sanctuary. They were part of the Connecticut State Nature League. The boys assisted the State board of Fisheries and Game in improving the sanctuary. They added 25 new markers for the various trees and shrubs. The purpose of the boys’ work was Sanctuary beautification. The animals in the “zoo” were believed to consist of deer, raccoons, bobcats, skunks, hawks, pheasants, swamp quail, and other species. Groups, like carnivals, contacted the zoo to rid themselves of exotic animals, such as monkeys, alligator and even a baby giraffe. However, the giraffe story has never been verified.

The Zoo closed in 1938 and by the end of the Great Depression the breeding program was terminated. The State Board of Fisheries and Game ended the wildlife exhibit due to issues of funding. The wildlife Sanctuary continued until its abandonment during the 1960s. The introduction of Interstate 84 reduced the traffic on Route 6 causing less interest in the trail and its buildings. Occasionally groups like teachers and youth leaders used the sanctuary for events. 

The National Register of Historic Places added the Sanctuary’s shelter to its list on September 4, 1986. Unfortunately, the shelter has fallen into disrepair. The project had great promise but when one drives by it now there is little to be seen. There is a small dirt parking area, overgrown weeds with rusted old cages as reminders of a forgotten “zoo.” It is a wildlife preserve for wildlife and plants. There is much more to learn about The Shade Swamp Sanctuary and Nature Trail with its past and hopefully a revitalized future.

"CADWELL, RISLEY TRAP PORCUPINE: NOW ON DISPLAY." Farmington Valley Herald (Hartford) September 17th 1936.8.

CONNECTICUT - Hartford County, National Register of Historic Places. Accessed October 17th 2019.

Connecticut Woodlands. February 1937. 9.

FARMINGTON, CONNECTICUT Shade Swamp Sanctuary, Atlas Obscura. Accessed October 15th 2019.

"Farmington Sanctuary Wildlife Exhibit Will Be Closed As Economy Measure." Hartford Courant June 22nd 1939.1.

Hewes, Lydia. "Conneticut Employs First Woman Nature Guide to Show Wildlife Wonders of 

Shade Swamp Game Sanctuary." Hartford Daily Times July 29th 1934.12.

HISTORIC RESOURCES INVENTORY BUILDING AND STRUCTURES, National Park Service. August 21st 1986. Accessed October 15th 2019.

"Hobby Show Presented By CCC Camps: Exhibition Opens at Old State House and Will Continue Throughout Week Tribute Is Paid CCC Commander.." Hartford Courant December 6th 1934.6.

Maher, Neil M. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement. Oxford. Oxford University Press, 2009.

"Middletown Boys Visit Sanctuary In Farmington." Hartford Courant August 2nd 1934.3.

Marteka, Peter."Hikes Through A Few Of Farmington's Historical Places." Hartford Courant October 29th 2017.B5.

Milne, George McLean. Connecticut Woodlands : A Century's Story of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. Rockall, Conn.]: Association, 1995.

Perrie, Alan M. Shade Swamp Blue trail, Town of Farmington. Accessed October 15th 2019.

Podskoch, Martin. Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: History, Memories, and Legacy of the CCC. East Hampton, Connecticut. Podskoch Press, 2016.

PROJECTS IN CONNECTICUT, The Living New Deal. Accessed October 13th 2019.


"Teachers, Youth Leaders to Get Briefing at Farmington Sanctuary." Hartford Courant September 16th 1964.19B.

Teague, Wendell A. "Zoo In Farmington May Be Abandoned For Lack of Funds: Extensive ...." Hartford Courant September 13th 1933.A1.

"Tours Slated of Sanctuary." Farmington Valley Herald (Hartford) September 5th 1963.19.

"Village Library Plans Youth Awards Event." Farmington Valley Herald (Hartford) June 4th 1964.10.


Image Sources(Click to expand)

photo taken by Craig Banks September 2019

photo taken by Craig Banks September 2019

photo taken by Craig Banks September 2019

photo taken by Craig Banks September 2019