Highway 301, Part III

Rainforest Park

About 20 miles south of Ocala, Florida, along Highway 301, lies the little crossroads torainforest_parkwn of Sumterville. From 1963 to 1967, Sumterville was the home of an interesting park called Rainforest Art Garden and Dinosaur Jungle. The park officially opened in June of 1963, and covered 205 acres which included a small lake with paddle boats, extensive landscaping, an art garden featuring glass paintings depicting the life of Christ, and an animated dinosaur jungle. The park was the brainchild of farmer/newspaperman/developer Weyman Carmichael, Sr. and his son Weyman, Jr. Today, only the landscaping remains, as part of a retirement community that now features a 9-hole golfn042047 course. But the “skeleton” of one dinosaur still exists, somewhere off that golf course in the jungle. This past January I set out to find it, after hearing about it for several years. What we found was the rusted-up mechanical pile of steel that once terrifiedc660681 tourists as it rolled along on a rail, waved its arms, and shrieked through a remote PA system. Some shreds of the artificial skin remain in piles on the ground. All the gears and sprockets that worked together to make the movement possible have succumbed to nearly 50 years of the elements, slumped into a rusted heap.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur Skeleton

Almost undetectable and now far off the beaten path, the last remaining hulk of a mechanical dinosaur slowly drifts back to the earth.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur Skeleton

Artificial flesh still hangs from the remains of the mechanical dinosaur.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Some “flesh” still hangs off the skeleton.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

The mechanical layout appears to have been somewhat sophisticated, including a rotating torso.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Complete with shrieks and roars, the dinosaur moved along on a rail system that ran parallel to the walking path, which used a boardwalk through the swampy areas.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Sections of the park were navigated by boat.

 


Comments

Highway 301, Part III — 5 Comments

  1. Thanks for your interesting article. My grandparents lived between Oxford and Wildwood on Hwy 301. My aunt and uncle ran a packing house in Bushnell, very close to Sumpterville. Also, my Dad grew up in Webster, which is very close to the area you are talking about. Whenever I get down that way, I try to get by the old homesite. While the house is long gone, the land is still cleared, and I usually find some memories of my days there in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s funny that I don’t remember the park, seems that would have been big news back in those pre-Disney days.

  2. Thanks for this info, I’ve been trying to figure out for 50 plus years where this park was. I remember seeing it along Hwy 301 as a kid.

  3. I remember the park well and even the paddle boats (that i tried to escape into the wild) without the guidance of adults when I was very young. My grandparents lived in Bushnell back then and it was always exciting to come to the country or at least what we thought was a far off distant destination from Tampa where we lived. Then there was Six Gun Territory another great memory.

    I revisited the park in my late teens with some friends it had been closed for some time. The paddle boats were all but rotten, most of the dinosaurs were collapsed or knocked down. Just a neat place to explore.

    Much simpler times and days it does seem to me.

  4. I went to school with the Carmichael kids in Leesburg back in the early 60’s. Our classes went to the Rainforest & Art Garden for field trips. Both were amazing. So sorry they are gone. The Life of Christ Garden Mosaics were beautifully made from broken pieces of glass.

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