Friday, October 14, 2011

Where dem' Oranges at?!?!

That's what I'm asking myself, where in the living god are the orange groves? I live in a town with the word orange in it's name yet for as long as I lived here, I've never seen one orange orchard. Then I looked into it, (because what else would I do?) It turns out actually that our town, oh I'll just say it, "Orange Park" not only had orange groves before the the freeze wiped them out in the thirties (much like my 09' tomato crop), but they also had monkey research facilities, yes, monkey research facilities.....I'll explain.

Orange Park was the home of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, one of ten regional centers for primate research. The Orange Park center, established in 1930 by psychologist Robert Yerkes and Yale University and the Rockefeller Foundation, was the first laboratory in the United States for the study of non-human primates.

Part of the land on which the Foxwood development sits was once a monkey research facility called the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology (1930-1965). Prior to the Yerkes facility opening in 1930, Yerkes was engaged in his own research with two great apes, aptly named “Chim” and “Panzee”. His findings convinced officials at Yale University, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation to sponsor the Orange Park facility. Initially designed to house about 25 chimpanzees, researchers worked with an estimated 65 chimps (and possibly more) during the lab’s 35-year history. This location was home to chimpanzees nurtured as humans such as Gua chimpanzee and Viki and other primates from the estate of Madame Rosalia Abreu in Havana. It was home to some of the leading behavioral scientists of the time, some of whom either liked or hated living in the humid South. These researchers studied various aspects of primate behavior, including basic biology, sensory function, reproductive systems, behavioral patterns, physiology and anatomy. Comically, rumors about the place by Orange Park residents included those of scientists cross-breeding humans with apes. Yet, the term “Monkey Farm” was (and still is) the popular name given to the Yerkes Labs by Orange Park residents.

The plot of land in Orange Park which Yerkes Labs sat upon was 188 acres, about a mile from the town of Orange Park. The actual research buildings sat on less than an acre, on what is now part of the Foxwood Center plaza (facing Orange Park Medical Center on Kingsley Avenue and next to the kangaroo which I drive by every day nearly). In 1966, the abandoned buildings and adjacent land were purchased by Developer Marvin Wilhite of Ahpla, Inc., who still lives in Foxwood and built other communities such as Foxridge. He chose the name Ahpla (using a backward arrangement of the letters) after a female chimp named Alpha, who was the first chimp born at the Yerkes Labs on Sept. 11, 1930.

Foxwood Center still has some of the original laboratory buildings that once housed the chimps, the grounds caretaker, and administrative offices. These stand alongside others that have been added, including the Orange Park Chamber of Commerce building. The old caretaker’s house is now The Granary. (WHAT?! the granary my favorite store mind you, was a monkey keeper's house?!?!)

I was just as baffled when I read this as I'm sure you are, who in the world would have thought we had some sort of "Planet of the Apes" facility here? I mean ok I understand every small town has it's weird residents, like the crossing guard who waves to everyone at the corner, who isn't a crossing guard..... But a monkey facility? Wow...just wow....

What was I talking about before? oh right the orange groves...we had oranges, there I said it, yay, we had orange groves then all the darn things froze. But a monkey facility people! in Orange Park, what's next? A black hole in the local WinneDixe janitor's closet?!

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