By Barbara King
Here’s everything you could imagine for a perfect day out with the family: animals, playground, exhibits, and to top it all off, it’s free!
Brookshire’s World of Wildlife Museum has been providing an entertaining and educational experience for East Texans since 1975 when the museum was first established as a result of the Brookshire family’s visits to Africa and North America. Brookshire Grocery founders, the late T. Wood and Louise Brookshire, made it their mission to share their love of wildlife and nature with the children and families of East Texas.
The Brookshire’s embarked on African wildlife safaris in 1967, 1969, and 1971, and obtained special permits in order to display the animals in an educational environment for all to enjoy. The purpose was to provide children exposure to the wild animals of the earth. The museum is a testimony to their greatest joys in life, the grocery business, and the great outdoors.
Originally opened in 1975 in the lobby of the Brookshire Grocery Company’s office complex, the museum was expanded in 1976, then moved to its current location in 1990. The museum was remodeled in 2004 to include the donations of animals by Wayne Scoggins of Marshall and Carolyn Eames of Tyler, on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Dan Eames.
You will be warmly greeted and treated like family as you are instructed to “ leave food and drinks behind and make sure not to touch the animals with your hands, just your eyes.” Museum Supervisor Tina Saxon, a genuine and enthusiastic face at the Museum, loves the fact that visitors come to the Museum from all across the States, and even the world.
“It’s a privilege to work here and see the faces light up when they see the huge animals we have on display,” she says as a group of young children point in awe at a huge white polar bear with a ferociously wide, gaping mouth.
More than 450 different mammals, reptiles, fowl, and aquatic species from Africa and North America are on display, each in a colorful diorama depicting their life in the wild. Each diorama has a detailed description of the animals displayed, along with information about their habitat and fun facts.
Every single nook and cranny of the Museum is full of animals, from a huge brown bear, to foxes, leopards, lions, and ostriches. Each corner you turn has walls mounted with everything from a giraffe to a rhino and bison, to a humorous display of monkeys playing a very serious game of Monopoly.
Take a seat and listen to the story of how the Museum began, with old footage from the very beginning of the idea from Louise Brookshire, herself, to the construction and expansion to the current facility.
When you sign in the visitor’s book, you can see the draw the Museum has from all over the States, with guests coming from all over and as far away as China, Japan, and Halifax, Nova Scotia – and that was just for the month of September!
“Each year we welcome more than 60,000 visitors from all over the world,” said Saxon. Thousands of school children visit every year, and it’s also a popular spot for high school art students to sketch pictures of the animals.
As a thank you for visiting, each group also receives a free store coupon for a pint of ice cream that can be redeemed at any Brookshire’s, Super1 Foods, Spring Market, or FRESH by Brookshire’s.
Elissa Douglas was busy laughing with her friends as she celebrated her 4th birthday with a walk through of the museum, followed by a birthday party outside on the playground. Her mother, Nicki Douglas, said, “the girls are having a great time, and it’s such a different and great place to have a party.” Elissa said, “My favorite thing to see is the ostrich and the eggs that are her babies…I think!”
Tucked around the corner from all the wild beasts is the replica of an old 1920’s country store, which is a delight for folks of all ages. It’s a true trek back in time, encapsulating a rare look back at a past era in the supermarket industry. The structure is complete with wooden floors and antique display cases, showcasing everything from hard rock candy to shaving implements and all kinds of grocery-related artifacts. You can view old-fashioned cameras and dried goods, alongside hair tonics, scales, and tintypes.
Sarah Carter was in the museum with her 3-year-old twin sons Levi and Landry, younger brother Layton, and their aunt Kate. The twins were in awe over the polar bear and the chance to open the door to the country store. “It’s our 3rd time here,” said mom Sarah, “and the boys just love to get up close to the animals. I think their very favorite is the huge polar bear.”
There are artifacts galore on every wall of the building, including personal safari pictures of the Brookshire family, pictures of the grocery industry, and a tribute to Brookshire’s most famous employee, Earl Campbell.
Right down the hall is the gift store, where you can buy anything from stuffed animals reminiscent of your visit to candles to compasses.
Outside is the newly renovated enormous playground, with three age-appropriate play areas from 2-5 years, 5-8 years, and 8-12 years. Most of the areas are shaded with canopies or trees and is the perfect spot for a birthday party. Reservations are required in advance for a designated birthday area on the playground where you can bring in your own decorations and food for $50 for two hours of fun. The only restriction for parties are no grills or bounce houses are allowed on the playground.
The playground features some really neat flashes from the past: a 1952 model LaFrance fire truck (which the kids will just love to climb), a restored railroad caboose, and a 1926 McCormick Deering farm tractor.
Come out and see what all the fun is about and learn about the wild kingdom in the process. Brookshire’s Wildlife Museum and Country store is located at 1600 WSW Loop 323 and Old Jacksonville Highway (south of Brookshire’s distribution complex) in Tyler. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-4pm. The Museum is closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is free.
For more info or to make reservations go to brookshiresmuseum.com or call (903)534-2169.