Greene Smith: Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman

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Smith BirdhouseThe important contributions to the field of ornithology of citizen-scientist Greene Smith have been obscured by the Underground Railroad and abolition fame of Smith’s father Gerrit Smith. As important and well-known as are the Underground Railroad sites on the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark in Peterboro NY, it is Greene’s Ornithon that most piques visitors’ curiosity about the builder and collector of that bird museum.

This public fascination prompted Norm Dann to turn the focus of his Smith research to Greene Smith and his Birdhouse. Dann’s study of family letters, military records, Greene’s personal Catalogue of Birds, the pursuit of Greene’s hunting apparatus, and the ownership and investigation of the Birdhouse site, have culminated in the March printing of Greene Smith and the WildLife: The Story of Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman – the first publication on this absorbing story.

Dann will share his research and sign the new book on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 2 pm at the Smithfield Community Center (5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro, NY) in celebration of Greene’s birthday. Starting with his April birth in 1842 as Green, his nickname “Beeny,“ his sad letters from the Theodore and Angelina (Grimke) boarding school in New Jersey, and past his years as a young man serving in the Civil War at the Battle of the Crater two days after his enlistment, Dann will trace the history of a person who loved birds from an early age, studied birds, designed his Ornithon (an architectural treasure as a museum for birds), and collected birds, nests, and egg specimens from around the world. Greene was president of national and state sportsmen’s organizations, and lectured at Cornell University, before his passionate study of wildlife – and his wild social lifestyle- came to an early death.

Greene Smith’s widow donated his bird collection to Colgate, Cornell, and Harvard universities. Specimens from the Colgate collection will be at the program. Tim Gallagher, Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology and Editor-in-Chief of “Living Bird” states that “Greene Smith launched his own bird research and amassed the most important American ornithological collection of its time.”

Nell Ziegler will bring the audience up to date with current monitored Re-Discovery activities at the Birdhouse site and approved planning for the future. Weather permitting, a guided walk to the Ornithon site will be provided after the program. The Peterboro Mercantile, a community heritage shop, will have birdhouse books, tee shirts, stationery, mugs, and buttons on hand for the event. Recycled articles and birdhouse-related items will also be available.

GreenefrontCoverscreenNorman K. Dann PhD, professor emeritus Morrisville State College, is a researcher and biographer of the Gerrit Smith family, a docent at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, and a founder and current Cabinet member of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. Nell Ziegler is the President of the Smithfield Community Association, the not-for-profit responsible for the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the 23rd Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend.

Greene Smith and the WildLife program is a Gerrit Smith Estate (GSE) Birdhouse Squad project. The GSE was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 2001 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and was later declared a site on the National Park Service Network to Freedom – the national Underground Railroad Trail.

The GSE opens for the 2015 season on Saturday, June 6 at 1 pm, and will be open weekends from 1 – 5 pm, as well as for special events and by appointment. The public is encouraged to attend and bring Birdhouse artifacts to show. Admission is $3 for adults. Students and volunteers are free. For updates and more information:,,, 315-280-8828.

With regards to the environment and Greene, the Gerrit Smith Estate will honor Earth Day on April 22 (10 am– 4 pm) as a site for the Madison County Earth Day Textile Collection Event. Torn, worn, clean, and dry clothing and linens to be recycled can be brought to the The Lodge porch at 5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro.

Photo of the Birdhouse provided.

2 thoughts on “Greene Smith: Peterboro’s Avid Outdoorsman

  1. Pingback: 2018 New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame Honors 11

  2. Pingback: Greene Smith Named To Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame | The New York History Blog

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