Hallie’s Zoo

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City/Town: ClintonDennard
Location Class: CommercialChurch
Year Built: 1967
Year Abandoned: 1979
Status: AbandonedRestored
Photographer: Michael SchwarzEddy SissonJames Kirkendall

hallies-historicThis 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 hallies-hist-2a 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

36 Comments

  1. Everybody is passionate about their swimming pool. To keep it safe just cover up it. A pool cover is the best way to protect your family and friend ensuring your pool will remain the source of fun and enjoyment.

  2. would be a great place for the air soft community to play we need a good place like this and it would bring in money for the owner

  3. Jerry Dean on

    Used to stop in at Hallie’s often with my sons when they were young, and they loved the train ride and animals. They’re now 44 and 40. Seem to recall efforts in 1979, when Bill Clinton became governor, of the Ormands to sell the larger property off U.S. 65 to the state as a state park. Effort failed when state learned a stream on the land was seasonal, so not floatable 365 days a year. Sorry it fell into disrepair. Once was very pleasant for family outings! Lived in Little Rock 1945-95 and wrote for newspapers, but relocated now to East Tennessee. Love it over here, but I remain a native Arkie as do my wife and daughters.

  4. I was just wondering if anyone had pictures of the zoo back in the day. Also does anyone know how far down the mountain the zoo went? I have been there and tour the cages but it says the zoo was almost 6000 acres and what is cleared now is only maybe 2 acres. Keep up the good work. Thanks

    • My mother was walking a wolf that was kept there a few weeks ago, and we went deep into the woods. The land may have been on thousands of acres, but there wasn't a lot of evidence that the zoo actually went down that far. We came across several beautiful waterfalls, but the land lacked any development. The pastor and his wife are clearing the area out for a project they are doing.

  5. Wow, wow and wow! What a creepy and beautiful abandoned place! This one is totally unique. I seeing abandoned zoo for the first time! What i vibrant place. I'll definitely visit it someday. Thanks for the great post!

  6. A education for all youngsters, which is the reason we have a state financed instructive framework to offer every tyke an informative open entryway, paying little regard to their experience, watchman's compensation or some consultant sample resume picture different components. Investigation has exhibited that beginning a tyke's education early and well is basic.

  7. Our family went there, back in about 1972. I loved the train, but I remember the bears the best. My mom had just bought a bag of candy at the gift shop. My dad told her to give the black bears a piece of candy. One of them reached out and swatted the bag right out of her hand. Guess that’s why the sign said stay back.

  8. I used to drive past that place every week on my truck route to Harrison and always wondered what that tunnel was for but now I know. Had no idea that used to be a zoo.

  9. Love what you folks are doing. Most of the places I've not heard of, but enjoy the education, love Arkansas history. The ones I do remember I hate to see their current condition, but they bring back such great memories. Thank you all.

  10. Wow – you all have once again found a lost Arkansas treasure. Congratulations – love reading everyone's comments too.

  11. I worked in the office at Hallie's for awhile back in the mid-70s. Someone mentioned riding the train and thought there was some kind of big cat. There was, and his name was Tommy. He was a sweetie; I stroked him and scratched his ears everytime I passed his cage. I still have a large ceramic zebra I bought in the gift shop.

    • AbandonedAR Team on

      The idea behind having a lot of photos is to show these places in detail. Although there are a few repeat photos we could remove, we want to display more than just 20 photos and cover these places as best as we can. Thanks for your suggestion! I\’ll try to filter some out.

  12. I go to church there. We have awesome services learning the word of God. Our Pastor's name Rick Montgomery & his wife Ms. Fritzi. The atmosphere is peaceful & the scenery is beautiful. Also, the people are super sweet. I encourage anyone who is looking for a good church to come for a visit. 🙂

  13. Have been by there a 1000 times on Hwy 65 and never realized the zoo went along the cliffs. I just remember the cages out front and train tracks.

    • Hallie's and Dogpatch….two of the places my folks used to take me all the time. We could never afford Disneyland. lol

  14. The zoo is no longer abandoned. Our church is now at the zoo. We have Hebrews Cafe that serves hamburgers and cheese burgers. There is also a gift shop that had new and handmade items.

  15. I have pictures of me and my sister riding the train. My grandfather had a veggie stand right before this zoo in Dennard. It was awesome!! I think my pics are from 1976. It was a blast!!

  16. I worked there in the summers of 1975-1976-1977. I worked in the better gift shop where tickets were sold for the train ride and zoo. I would drive the train that overlooked the mountain and went over the zoo. I also worked as a cook on the days that my mom was off. My grandmother managed the place.

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