The Origin of Bird Conservation
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a movement in the U.S. began against the wholesale slaughter of birds.
Birds were being slaughtered for their feathers which were a staple in women's fashion at the time, particularly for hats.
The movement against the slaughter of birds started through women's clubs, which placed emphasis on conservation and nature.
Who Led the Bird Conservation Movement?
Mabel Osgood Wright
Mabel Osgood Wright was an American author from Fairfield, CT who wrote extensively about birds and nature and was an early leader in the Audubon movement. She helped organize the Connecticut Audubon Society and was elected as the first president in 1898. As a pioneer of bird protection, in 1914, Wright established the Birdcraft Sanctuary located in Fairfield, which is the second oldest private songbird sanctuary in the United States.
Ernest Harold Baynes
The genesis of private bird sanctuaries began with Ernest Harold Baynes, a naturalist and bird protection fanatic. In the early 1900s, Baynes traveled around the country sharing stories and spreading information about the significance of birds. In 1911, Baynes helped establish the very first private bird sanctuary in Meriden, NH. A few years later Baynes gave a book tour talk in Greenwich, CT about the importance of saving birds, which was attended by several New Canaan residents.
Preface to "Wild Bird Guests: How to Entertain Them"
"We Americans have recklessly wasted our national assets in the past. But now there has come a change. We are trying to preserve our forests and utilize our water supply and care for the soil instead of merely exhausting it... There is sound economic reason for protecting the birds; and in addition there is ample reason for protecting them simply because they add immeasurably to the joy of life." - Teddy Roosevelt
Ernest Harold Baynes, Wild Bird Guests - 1915
Baynes established the Meriden Bird Sanctuary, the first private bird sanctuary in the U.S. Every year, the sanctuary put on a play, featuring President Woodrow Wilson's daughters who spent the summers in Meriden, N.H. The involvement of his daughters at the sanctuary may have influenced Wilson to bring the Bird Migratory Act before the senate in 1916, which was enacted in 1919.
Who Led the Bird Conservation Movement in New Canaan?
Due to growing national concern for bird conservation, in 1916, a group of New Canaan residents were inspired to establish the Bird Protective Society.
Led by president Harry Bates Thayer, the society consisted of several other elected officers and gained many members within its first year. Among these founding members were well-known New Canaan families including the Davenports, Fearhakes, Frothinghams, Gerdes, Hoyts, Nobles, Sillimans, Thayers, and especially Stephen B. Hoyt and Myra Valentine.
Harry Bates Thayer
H.B. Thayer played a major role in organizing the Bird Protective Society. At the time, Thayer was the highest paid executive in the U.S. He led AT&T and served as the president of Western Electric, AT&T's manufacturing arm. Harry Thayer possessed the Founder's skills to incorporate, lead and organize the Bird Protective Society.
Mrs. Barend Van Gerbig
Stephen B. Hoyt, while searching to acquire land for the bird sanctuary, came upon three property owners who owned 17 acres of swamp and gravel pits behind Mead Memorial Park. In order to acquire this property, Hoyt began to fundraise and approached Mrs. Barend van Gerbig (nee Edith Olcott) who was an important civic supporter and financial contributor in New Canaan. Mrs. Van Gerbig was doubtful that Hoyt could raise the money publicly, so she generously made three donations of $2,300, $5,000, and $700 which was enough to cover the $8,000 needed to buy and fence the Bird Sanctuary.
Mrs. Van Gerbig is Taken By Death
Mrs. Edith van Gerbig, aged 83 years, died Wednesday afternoon at her home in Smith Ridge. A resident of New Canaan for the past 41 years... Mrs. van Gerbig devoted much of her time to [local] philanthropies.
The New Canaan Advertiser - July 16, 1953
People's Forum: Gave Sanctuary Land
An impressive list of Mrs. van Gerbig's philanthropic activities, so quietly carried on through her long life... To that already long list should be added her generous gift of land and fencing for our Bird Sanctuary, which has become such a valuable asset to our town.
Alice Bristow - The New Canaan Advertiser - July 23, 1953
The Bird Sanctuary!
"Through the generosity and interest of Mrs. Barend van Gerbig, the New Canaan Bird Sanctuary is at last a fact. And what a happiness it will be, as we walk through this country which adjoins the Mead Memorial Park, to know that our birds at last have adequate protection; a protection which has been hoped for, many years." - Whitman Bailey
"The day I feel is fast approaching when people as a whole will see the value and the beauty of our birds. Certainly the new sanctuary will do much to bring about that appreciation..." - Whitman Bailey
The New Canaan Advertiser - May 29, 1924
Formal Opening of Bird and Wildwood Preserve September 6th, 1924
On September 6th, 1924 New Canaan officially opened its Bird Sanctuary in Stamford Avenue, - one of the finest of its kind in the State, with about one hundred and fifty actively interested spectators present.
Mr. Baynes Will Lecture on Birds
Ernest Harold Baynes, naturalist and general manager of the Meriden Bird Club and Sanctuary... will lecture to the New Village Hall, Friday evening, September 12 at 5:15... Mr. Baynes' work in conservation of wild bird life is well-known throughout the country and the success of the Meriden Sanctuary is largely due to his efforts.
The New Canaan Advertiser - September 11, 1924
Conditions for the Transfer of Bristow to the Town of New Canaan
- That the land so deeded shall be forever maintained as a Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve, and used for no other purpose whatsoever
- That no part of it shall ever be sold
- That the Bird Protective Society, through its duly constituted officers reserves the use of the building known as the "Sanctuary House" for its meetings, library, museum, etc., and for such purposed as may be incidental to its educational program
- That the public shall enjoy the free use of the property consistent with the purpose described in these conditions
Signed by Anna R. Hoyt, Secretary - February 5, 1934
Henry Kelley was a leading citizen of New Canaan and served as the President of the Bird Protective Society from 1937 until his death in 1949. He was also a lifetime member of the Park Commission and served three terms as President of the Fairfield County Planning Association.
To honor Kelley, the directors of the Bird Protective Society raised funds to purchase 12 acres of land for a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary by Wahackme Road and received a gift of 25 acres bordered by Silvermine Road and Cedar Lane from Clarence and Alice King. The Henry Kelley Uplands Sanctuary remains open today for birding and visitation as part the the New Canaan Land Trust's "Silvermine Fowler Preserve."
Henry Kelley Sanctuary Proposed as Memorial
Henry Kelley was born in New Canaan over 90 years ago; his long life was devoted to the welfare of his beloved town, to making it a finer and more beautiful place in which to live, and to preserving its heritage of beauty for future generations.
"Everybody knew him. Everybody loved him, and everybody enjoyed life in this fine little Connecticut town, to some extent at least because of his endless devotion to its welfare." - Myra Valentine
The New Canaan Advertiser - June 5, 1952
Myra Valentine was a founding member of the Bird Protective Society as well as a past president of the New Canaan Garden Club in 1920. Miss Valentine served as President of the Bird Protective Society from 1949 to 1954, and was the Honorary President for many years thereafter.
The Helen and Alice Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve
Helen and Alice Bristow
After Myra Valentine, Helen and Alice Bristow, two sisters, were the longest term members of the Bird Protective and Audubon Societies. Helen was Secretary and then President of the Bird Protective Society, wrote columns in the New Canaan Advertiser titled "Round Robin," and both Helen and Alice were avid record keepers about the society and park. In 1987, the sanctuary was rededicated to honor the sisters.
Updated Photos of Bristow Park
Created with an image by GeorgeB2 - "cardinal red bird wildlife"