Bird Egg Collection, Open Since December 23, 2006

One of the most amazing of the holdings of The Franklin County Historical Association is its bird egg collection. Victorian Americans collected bird eggs as a popular hobby. The practice of collecting bird eggs as a hobby was long ago outlawed through legislation designed to protect threatened bird populations. By 1914, the practice had ceased, although private collections obtained before prohibition were allowed.

Manton and Dorothy Nations of Georgetown, Texas, has given our association a collection of some 200 bird eggs; these eggs were collected during the 1880's and acquired by A.W. Nations, father of Manton Nations, in the 1930's. Among the eggs are those of the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Paroquet, and Heath Hen, all species which had become extinct in the early part of the 2oth century. Of more interest, there are only 162 documented Passenger Pigeon Eggs and 37 documented Carolina Paroquet eggs. A few museums hold those eggs; suddenly, we are in the national news, and our holdings are added to the documented numbers.

Mr. and Mrs. Nations also gave us a collection of 47 boxes of mounted butterflies which were collected by A.W. Nations in the 1930's. Many of the butterflies are subspecies which are now extinct; most were collected in Texas.

On December 23, 2006, members of the Franklin County Historical Association and representatives of universities and state agencies were able to preview the collection prior to a lecture and "Owl Prowl" outing presented by Clifford Shackelford, chief ornithologist for nongame birds for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The collection remains now on display at the Fire Station Museum, in Mount Vernon at 201 S. Kaufman, open Tuesday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. For more information, or for an appointment to see the collection at other times, call 903-537-4760 FCHA office hours, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., Tuesday and Thursday. You may also send an e-mail inquiry to Lillie Bush Reves at her email address:
editor@mt-vernon.com

VIEWING THE EGG ON DVD OR WITH A CLICK

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife recently produced a video featuring the egg collection and the opportunity to see birds around Franklin County. It was released on DVD around the country, and Cliff E. Shackelford, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, reports:
Great news! The Mt Vernon egg video has been released and is now being aired all over the place. We have no way to track where and when various TV stations are airing it, but the link below might interest you:
http://www.news8austin.com/content/living/8_outdoors/?ArID=198111&SecID=61

Wichita Falls, among others, ran the egg story! See the link below from Karen Loke. Click on “Watch” at the top of the story:
http://texomashomepage.com/content/fulltext/?cid=5987

EGGS IN COLLECTION TERMED PRICELESS

The article below was written by Lillie Bush Reves for the July 17, 2003, edition of the Mount Vernon Optic-Herald.

In an area where the number of chickens is larger than the number of people, most people consider an egg as common. But eggs in a collection held by the Franklin County Historical Association are special.

A visit by two oologists (people who study eggs) and several ornithologists (people who study birds) to Mount Vernon confirmed the identity of more than 220 eggs in the "Nations Collection" of bird eggs owned by the local historical association.

All of the eggs are more than 100 years old. Of special interest to the scientists are two specimens of now extinct species, the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Paroquet.

The Passenger Pigeon egg was collected in 1880. Once the largest numbering species of bird in North America, the last known Passenger Pigeon died in captivity at the Cincinnati, Ohio, zoo in October, 1914.



Above:  The Actual Display of the Passenger Pigeon Egg in the Museum

The last pair of Carolina Paroquets lived 35 years at the same zoo. In the late summer of 1917, the female died, leaving her mate. Alone, and the last of his kind, the male quietly "died of grief," according to zoo records, on February 21, 1918.

Above:  An Artist's Rendering of the Carolina Paroquet

The scientists confirmed what local enthusiasts and Historical Association board members have known for years.

"What you have here is priceless," stated Linnea Hall, director of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. "You cannot sell them, it's illegal to do so, and insurance companies will not insure them. But, from a scientific and educational standpoint, they are invaluable."

Rene' Corado, the collection manager for the foundation, noted that although the foundation curates more than a million eggs, there are only 29 Passenger Pigeon eggs and one Carolina Paroquet egg in their collection. It is estimated by the Florida Museum of Natural History that only 12 sets of the Carolina Paroquet and 148 sets of the Passenger Pigeon eggs exist in the United States.

Along with their elation over the collection came a whirl wind of caution to board members and others present for a brief curate seminar by the two experts. They asked that the local organization consider donating the collection to the foundation.

"You don't want to risk loss of these valuable specimens to the elements," stressed Ms. Hall. "Even those that are not extinct are more than 100 years old."

The outline of procedures to clean, document, store and maintain the collection was given an initial rough estimate of $25,000.00, based on similar curate done by the foundation.

Cliff Shackelford, Chief Ornithologist with the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife in Austin, stated that he knew of no individual or organization in Texas that could perform needed cleaning, storing and documentation on the eggs.

Exposure to light, moisture and contact with other materials that transfer moisture and or discolor the specimens were of great concern.

"These boxes they are in are storing moisture and causing a type of mold to discolor most of the eggs," noted Mr. Corado.

The eggs remained stored in the original boxes in which they were collected. "People didn't have or know of better means of storage 100 years ago," commented Ron Milton, president of the Franklin County Historical Association. "What you've heard here today has given us all a lot to consider."

Although some of the more common eggs were placed on display at the local Old Fire Station Museum from 1991-1994, they have all been protected from dangerous fluorescent lighting and in limited climate controlled conditions at the association's Parchman House headquarters since they were donated by Matton and Dorothy Nations of Georgetown, Texas. Only credentialed scientists have been privy to see the rarer eggs.

The new found enthusiasm over the egg collection has stirred interest in what could be of benefit from a tourism perspective. The price tag, however has some board members concerned, but not its former chairman.

"We have always been the little community who could," stated B. F. Hicks, president of the appointed Franklin County Historical Commission. "Fund raising has been an ongoing process here (in Franklin County). Look at the five properties the Historical Association maintains and operates. All came through and continue from fund-raising."

The display remains open Tuesday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. For more information, or for an appointment to see the collection at other times, call 903-537-4760 during the stated operating hours. You may also send an e-mail inquiry to Lillie Bush Reves at editor@mt-vernon.com.

Above:  An Artist's Rendering of the Heath Hen