On November 9, 1973, Paula Jones donated 2.65 acres of land to the Wheaton Park District. Ms. Jones wanted to protect the land from being developed, so she donated it in the memory of Mr. Harvey Cosley, a close relative and original owner of the land. With a great deal of help from local businesses and service organizations, the park district was able to repair the old barns, and the 1887 Chicago & Northwestern Train Station.
Opened on August 17, 1974, the park was named the Cosley Children's Park and Museum. While the park only had a small handful of animals on opening day, within a few months the collection grew to include native wildlife as well. In 1976, the parks name was changed to the Cosley Animal Farm and Museum.
In 1974, an 1800's barn from St. John's Lutheran Church in downtown Wheaton was moved to the park. Today, the barn is used for storage and displaying antique horse drawn vehicles. Railroad tracks were laid in front of the train station in the summer of 1975, and the following November, a retired Burlington railroad caboose was bought to sit on the tracks and serve as decoration. In September of 1976, money from the federal revenue sharing fund was responsible for the zoo being enlarged by 2 additional acres.
A bird aviary was added to the zoo in 1982, and is home to 13 species of pheasants, ruffled grouse, doves and several other birds. The Wheaton Park District has raised money through fund raising through the years and made several more improvements to the zoo, including the addition of the Vern Kiebler Learning Center, a 66,000-gallon duck pond, an amphitheater and exhibits highlighting rabbits, white-tailed deer, raptors, raccoons, coyotes and red fox. The Vern Kiebler Learning Center was constructed to house domestic farm animals and store food. The Learning Center also has a large indoor area for educational programs and special events. The facility grew and changed, as a result the name was again changed in 1999, to the Cosley Zoo.
Cosley Zoo pursued and obtained accreditation by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums in March, 2002. Also in 2002, after a series of extensive talks between the zoo and the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County, the zoo became partners in the Blanding's Turtle Recovery Project. In the summer of 2002, the railroad ties surrounding the zoo were replaced with more attractive landing bricks thus lending the facility a more attractive appearance.
At Cosley Zoo, visitors will see everything from a 2 lb. dwarf rabbit to goats, sheep, horses, chickens and ducks. Cosley also has a wide collection of native Illinois birds and mammals such as red fox, coyotes, deer, raccoons, hawks, owls, turkey vultures and much more. The zoo is open January through March from 9 am until 4 pm, April through October from 9 am until 5 pm, November from 9 am until 4 pm, after Thanksgiving through December 23rd from 9 am until 9 pm and special holiday hours are listed on the website.