Space Farms Zoo & Museum is such an odd mash-up of disparate collections that it is hard to explain what kind of farm it is. “Model T meets llamas” and “Creepy dolls, real tigers and something weird in a jar” were the answers from my husband and kids. We went last Sunday to check out the tiger cubs and enjoy a beautiful sunny Fall day in the country.
After parking in the free lot, we entered the main building which houses a snack bar, the admission counter and lots of creepy dolls upstairs. Luckily we had been there two years ago and I was prepared for the dolls this time!
The lobby is also the final resting place for Goliath, the 12 foot kodiak bear that looks ready to star in a Wes Anderson film. Goliath was born in Alaska but spent most of his long life (1969–1991) at Space Farms as their most famous attraction. He, and many other taxidermy projects, grace the hearth area leading to the mezzanine where antique dolls and muskets can be ogled.
There are over 500 animals on the 100 acres of Space Farms. People seem to be able to get closer to the animals than at other zoos. When we approached, the animals were not shy about coming right to the single fence looking for the kernels of corn you can purchase to feed them. Fallow Deer, Sika deer, goats and llamas all strutted up to jockey for corn in their respective herds. The lions and tigers checked us out when we came by but did not seem too interested from their slightly set back enclosures. Of note, Space Farms has “a bear and lion cub breeding program to help restore endangered populations all over the world.”
One feature I liked about the animals’ enclosures were that symbiotic species cohabitate. Instead of another uncomfortable discussion about the food chain and Darwin with my young kids, we got to see foxes living with a Syrian Grizzly bear. Apparently the foxes eat what the bear leaves behind but we didn’t have to go into gory details. Just a “hurray nature” moment and no tears.
The Space Farms brochure also boasts “50,000 pieces of Americana!” The extent of the antique motorcycles and vintage car collection in one of the biggest surprises about the museum buildings. There are also a ton of old farm and blacksmiths’ tools. There is a small shed with antique toys. The depth of the various collections seems like someone with OCD married a hoarder and they worked it out into Space Farms. And there is a little “indoor waterfall” because really, why not? They have the space.
It turns out that the business has been around since 1927 and has grown with the Space family and Sussex County community. Ralph and Elizabeth Space bought the land, opened a machine repair business and then a small general store. During the Great Depression, Elizabeth would accept family heirlooms like firearms, dolls and tools from local farmers in exchange for supplies and repairs they could not afford at the time. The items could be retrieved when the bills were paid. Ralph began working for the NJ State Game Department to protect farm animals from area predatory animals. He trapped the raccoon, foxes and bobcats but kept them in cages by his shop in the hopes of selling them later. It turned into a local attraction. The second generation of the Space family kept growing the museum and the zoo. The third generation of the family is now running the business.
I like coming across something that has a bit of history, a lot of quirkiness and plenty of open space for the kids to run around and explore. If you are interested in visiting Space Farms, go soon or in the Spring. The owner said the farm will be closing up for the Winter after Sunday, November 3rd. Bring snacks for young kids as the food choices were limited.
Space Farms Zoo & Museum
218 County Road 519, Wantage, NJ 07461 (about an hour’s drive from Montclair)
Open daily: 9 am – 5 pm, last entrance at 4 pm
Admission: Adults (13-64) – $15 plus tax, Children (3-12) – $10.50 plus tax, Seniors (65+) – $14 plus tax