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April 2, 2007

Rare Avian Treasures on Display in Small-Town Museum

MT VERNON, Texas — Families and nature enthusiasts seeking a weekend outing with educational value can become oologists for a day at the Franklin County Historical Association’s Fire Station museum in Mt. Vernon, Texas.

Oology is the study of eggs, especially those of birds, and the Fire Station Museum in Mt. Vernon offers Texas’ best display. The Oological exhibit showcases more than 150 bird eggs alongside pertinent information about each species. An egg from the extinct Carolina parakeet and one from the extinct Passenger pigeon are the rarest in the collection.

“The opportunity to see these eggs is very unique,” said Cliff Shackelford, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ornithologist. “To my knowledge, there is not another museum in the world that has the Carolina parakeet or Passenger pigeon egg on public display.”

In addition to the eggs’ rarity, they also offer visitors a glimpse into history. Prior to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, collecting bird eggs was a popular hobby. Mt. Vernon’s collection can trace its roots back to a taxidermist in Ohio who collected the majority of the eggs in the late 1800s. The eggs eventually found their way into a Texas collector A.W. Nations’ possession.

“He was a lepidopterist, one who studies butterflies, and had had a well preserved collection of more than sixty Texas butterflies,” said B.F. Hicks, Franklin County Historical Association Board of Directors member. “Mr. Nations had his butterflies and the egg collection, as well as a mammoth bone, and some mounted heads. It seemed he had plans of having his own private mini-natural history museum.”

Eventually, the Texan collector passed away, and over the years his museum ambitions became little more than a pile of cardboard boxes stacked in a garage. Hicks and Shackelford would help to change all that, and now the entire collection is on public display in Mt. Vernon.

“We spent more than two years and $50,000 on the project. It’s really a beautiful display,” said Hicks.

Located in a renovated fire station from the 1940s, the oological display was constructed according to state-of-the-art Smithsonian standards with fiber optic lighting and a specialized air filtration system. Visitors can also view the century-old butterfly collection, as well as other pieces of the museum’s collection. Computerized additions to the bird-egg display are scheduled for installation when funding permits.

Hicks said all of the museum’s items on display are in some way connected to Texas, making this opportunity a unique way to learn about the state’s wildlife.

Mt. Vernon is also a great location to get outdoors and see some of the avian species first-hand.

“They have more birding and wildlife viewing sites listed on our state’s wildlife viewing trail system than any other community its size,” said Shackelford. “There are more than a dozen bird watching sites within a thirty-minute drive from downtown.”

According to Shackelford, this small town is a place worth traveling to.

“Mt. Vernon offers people a chance to see some very rare eggs, great birding trails and just enjoy a unique local experience. From Dallas to Houston, to Shreveport and beyond, you can’t go see something like this in the big city,” he said.

More information on the Mt. Vernon Fire Station Museum can be found on the Franklin County Historical Association Webpage or by calling 903-537-4760. Birding and wildlife trail maps can be located through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Website.

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