Peterboro Ornithon Turns 150

The front the Ornithon, or Bird House, that Greene Smith built in Peterboro in 1863. In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the unusual building, Norman K. Dann will present a program on Smith and his private bird museum at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 26, 2013 at the site of the Bird House on the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, 5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro.

Birdhouse N Facade Burdick 4-17-13
Birdhouse Walk a Burdick 1-08 crp cmp

The north façade of Greene Smith’s Bird House is Peterboro. The bank of the Oneida Creek can be seen in the foreground and the home of Greene’s parents Ann and Gerrit Smith can be seen behind the trees in the background.

Gerrit Smith Estate News

(Peterboro, Smithfield, NY – May 2013) The amazing structure that Greene Smith built in 1863 for his phenomenal bird collection will be described, discussed and debated at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 26, at the site of the Bird House on the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark at 5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro.

Covered with bark and trained ivy that spelled out “Ornithon,” the exterior of the building, built directly on the south bank of Oneida Creek, provided some hint of the wonders within.

Not only did Smith have a collection of thousands of specimens of birds, nests and eggs, but the interior of the Bird House was considered ”the most complete museum of ornithology in the world” (Peterboro Scrapbook No.2 p. 33 c. 1884).

Live specimens in natural habitats, including a pond of water, were among the unexpected exhibits in the private museum. The tools of Smith’s hunting and preserving were also meticulously displayed.

Smith was well-known as the president of the national and state associations for the Protection of Fish and Game. He won and awarded prizes for his marksmanship and for his hunting dogs. Henry Stanton, husband of Greene’s cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wrote in the New York Sunday Sun after Greene’s death that Greene was “a brilliant conversationalist, and in his vigorous days could make a racy public speech.”

Norman K. Dann PhD will describe the costs of the traveling, collecting, preserving and building associated with the Ornithon, as well as other hobbies of Smith, and his stormy relationship with his father, abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Building on the research of Donna Burdick, Smithfield town historian and Kay Rorer, chairwoman of the Birdhouse Squad, Dann has studied the Greene Smith papers, accounts, ledgers and records at the Madison County Historical Society, the Peterboro Area Museum and Syracuse University to attempt to understand the creator of the Ornithon.

Dann has a book prepared for publication on his research.

The public is encouraged to attend this 150th anniversary of the unique birdhouse and its interesting creator and to bring stories and artifacts of the birdhouse. The 2013 re-discovery of Greene’s birdhouse, which fell in upon itself in the 1960s, will also be described.

People who are interested in helping with the digging out of the foundation may find out more about the project and sign up to help.

Admission for the program is $3 for benefit of the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark. Students are free. For more information, updates and complete 2013 calendar, visit gerritsmith.org, email info@gerritsmith.org or call 315.280.8828.

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