By Peggy Meyette

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The Meriden Bird Club has a most interesting and significant history. It was founded by Ernest Harold Baynes, naturalist, author and lecturer, who originally came to Meriden to study the bison, which then resided in nearby Corbin's Park (Blue Mountain Forest). Click here to see Bison at the Park. Mr Baynes had a tame Fox click here to see him with his Fox. He was well aware of the need for bird protection, throughout the country, at a time when they had been wastefully exploited for years for food, by egg collectors, but especially for feather trims on clothing, including hats.

It all began when Mr. Baynes gave a lecture~on attracting birds in the Kimball Union Academy chapel to students and townspeople on June 8,1910, followed two days later by a donation of $25.00 from the senior class for the purchase of bird houses for the campus. He also encouraged the locals to support his cause, which resulted in the Meriden Bird Club being organized on December 7, 1910. Its objectives were "The increase and protection of our local wild birds, the stimulation of interest in bird life and the gradual establishment of a model bird sanctuary."

In 1911, the 32 acre farm owned by Mary Watson came on the market and was purchased with an initial gift from Helen Woodruff Smith of Stamford, Connecticut. Her gift of $1000 was offered with the stipulation that the sanctuary bear her name. Hence, the organization became the first in America to own and maintain a sanctuary exclusively for the birds.

A considerable amount of interest was generated, which resulted in many bird feeders and bird houses being built and placed throughout the village. Even huge stones with concave tops capable of holding water for bird baths were drawn by oxen or horses from nearby farms to the sanctuary and the Congregational Church green.

The most popular bird houses were those invented by Baron Hans Von Berlepsch, 150 of which were imported from Germany for those who donated to the birdhouse fund. Baynes acquired the machinery needed to manufacture these houses and the Audubon Bird House Company located in a shed attached to the Bird Club building (now Joe and Judy Salsbury's home), and continued to make them until a fire destroyed the shed.

At the request of Baynes, his friend, Cornish poet, Percy MacKaye, wrote the drama "Sanctuary: A Bird Masque," which was performed in the sanctuary on September 12, 1913. This play underscored the loss and threat of extinction of birds for frivolous purposes. Miss Eleanor Wilson, daughter of the President, accepted the leading role and her sister, Miss Margaret Wilson, sang the opening song, "The Hermit Thrush." Other members of the cast came from Meriden, Plainfield and the nearby Cornish Colony. Many distinguished people witnessed the performance, including President and Mrs Woodrow Wilson, who came from the 'summer White House' in Cornish, and their guest, the English Ambassador.

Meriden became known as the "bird village," and the local activity resulted in the formation of over 125 community bird clubs throughout the country and helped promote legislation to protect birds. The plume trade for women's hats was particularly hurt.

For nearly 20 years the Bird Club has sponsored nature study programs in the first and fourth grades of Plainfield School. In addition to local birds, these studies include flowers, insects and spiders, trees, penguins, ostriches, bats and food chains.

The sanctuary is open to the public year round for hiking, cross country skiing etc. and birds are fed near the entrance in the winter. Each June, the Bird Club holds an outdoor breakfast for members and their guests at the site of the Masque. Meetings are held six times a year, on the third Tuesday of September, October, November, March, April and May in the neaby Duncan Parish House at 7:30 PM. These meetings are open to the public. Meeting information and sanctuary maps are available at the Meriden Library during regular hours.

Birds nest picture By Brad Thompson

Coming Events

For those of you interested in other local birding activities you might want to contact the Mascoma Chapter of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. They have some great programs and field trips scheduled throughout the year. Several trips are scheduled during winter months to view the bald eagles which frequent Wilder Dam.

Bison at Corbin's Park, picture taken by Earnest Harold Baynes

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