Why call it a “Cactus” Festival?

In 2019 the inspiration for changing the name of our annual community festival to the Devine Cactus Fall Festival was found not only in the abundance of cactus in our landscape, but also in a historic and unique attraction that put Devine “on the map” in the 1950s – the DEVINE CACTUS ZOO!
But with the cancellation of the festival in 2020, some people have forgotten about the reason for the change, and have been asking again, “Why Cactus?” So, with that in mind, we will revisit portions of the Cactus Zoo history with excerpts & pictures from articles that were in The Devine News in 2019. *And again, this year you will again be able to see pictures & posters from the iconic Devine Cactus Zoo, as well as Cactus Artwork by community youth at the George S. Woods Community Center during the festival on Saturday, November 5, 2021. Come check it out!!
In 2019 our community festival came with a new name, DEVINE CACTUS FALL FESTIVAL! Now this is a name that our area can really relate to because we have lots of cactus all around us, but Devine Chamber of Commerce president, Marcus Buckner, explained how the name change came about. “I had heard about the Devine Cactus Zoo and thought that was an appropriate theme since it was such a unique attraction for our area. It is a great thing to tap into about the history of Devine, as it was such a success at putting Devine on the map!” And what better way to honor our city’s history of a famous landmark than to associate our annual festival with it!

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The Cactus Zoo was well known in the mid to late 1950’s and was a famous area attraction. There were huge sculptures of animals and scenes made of thousands of cacti of various kinds, sizes, and shapes. It was well-known and visited by people across the state, nation, and even world-wide! It was a regular stop for Greyhound buses and had many overseas visitors. There was nothing like it in the world. Unfortunately, the prolonged drought of that decade was the demise of the zoo.
*1950s DEVINE CACTUS ZOO PICTURES FEATURED: The Devine Cactus Zoo was located in town on old HWY 81 (now Hwy 132) on a triangular piece of Baker property between the highway and the railroad tracks (to the right of the railroad overpass bridge going toward Natalia.). According to DHS Class of 1956 student, Linda Craig Bahlmann, “Back in those days, Hwy 81 was a major highway and anyone going to or from Laredo or Mexico (to or from San Antonio) had to come through Devine. Lots of people came through regularly to go to Laredo and Mexico to shop, eat, and visit, and also to go to the coast.” “The Greyhound buses also stopped there for their break and let the people out to walk through it.” “Can you imagine the expressions on their faces, especially the kids, when they drove through Devine and came to those. How marvelous it must have been for people to see it for the first time!” “Devine did not have much to see or do back then, and this was something that was new, a novel idea.”
*DEVINE CACTUS FALL FESTIVAL TO FEATURE DISPLAYS FROM THE FAMOUS DEVINE CACTUS ZOO!: If you have lived in Texas for any length of time, you have probably seen three things: a roadrunner, a snake, and cactus – and a lot of it! But in the 1950s, a very creative man in Devine, Mr. O.T. Baker saw something more. He put all three together to make a cactus sculpture of the bird and reptile in a fierce standoff! These cacti-sculptures, and many others like them, were built with thousands of cacti, of all kinds, shapes, and sizes that were gathered by him, and many other citizens of Devine, to create the one and only Devine Cactus Zoo! And this was not just a one-man venture – it was a community-wide adventure!
On November 5th, 2021, at the Devine Cactus Fall Festival, the Devine Chamber of Commerce will again have an exhibit of the Devine Cactus Zoo at the Dr. George S. Woods Community Center located by the library. This free display will feature more photos of the cactus zoo, including the ones of the sculptures of The Three Bears, Jonah and the Whale, Davy Crockett and his “bar”, the Tortoise & the Hare, and more! And this year there will also be A YOUTH ART EXHIBIT featuring “cactus themed art”.
By Nancy Ehlinger Saathoff