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Griggsville, Illinois

How a small midwest town brought purple martins to the status of "The Most Wanted Bird"

In 1962, the Griggsville Jaycees decided to undertake an insect-abatement program but were hesitant to push toward more intensive use of chemical pesticides, about where there was some growing confusion concerning their safety.

J. L. Wade, knowing the beneficial purple martin species was headed for the near-endangered species list, suggested that purple martins might be the answer because they eat nothing but flying insects and had shown a decided inclination to live in man-made apartments right in town.

The Jaycees decided to see if they could encourage a population of birds sufficient to whip the mosquito problem. Griggsville is situated between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, and the surrouding countryside has hundreds of ponds and river sloughs.

Wade's own experience with martin houses convinced him that if a city-wide project were to be started and kept in motion, something quite different from the usual martin house design would be needed.

Ornithologists and naturalists were consulted, and it was decided the perfect martin house should attract purple martins, but discourage starlings and sparrows; easily raise and lower vertically; be durable and lightweight; and be as maintenance-free as humanly possible. After extensive testing, aluminum was found to be the ideal material for a martin house -- lightweight but durable and very little maintenance required.

Trio Manufacturing (now Nature House Inc.) engineers fashioned a prototype of a 12-compartment, 2-story aluminum house that incorporated features to meet the requirements outlined by consulting ornithologists and naturalists, plus other innovations that occurred as development proceeded. The M-12K The Pioneer martin house, which was to help revolutionize the wild bird world, was born.

The Jaycees recieved 28 M-12Ks and chapter members installed them on telescoping steel posts at 100-foot intervals along the city's main thoroughfare, Quincy Street (also known as Purple Martin Boulevard). The tower was featured on the television program "Ripley's Believe It or Not" in March 2002.

Unprecedented results from this early venture led to Griggsville being named the Purple Martin Capital of the Nation, and the flourishing purple martin species quickly became "America's most wanted bird".

J.L. Wade sold the name, Nature House, and the manufacturing of Nature House products to ERVA Tool & Mfg. Co., Inc. of Chicago in November 2006. Mr. Wade died in June 2007 at the age of 94.

The Nature Society was also purchased by ERVA but remains in Griggsville where the Nature Society News continues to be published and the Society operates a Showroom at 109 W. Quincy Street. While in Griggsville, stop in at the Purple Martin Inn for a good meal. Hours are Tue-Sat 5:30am - 8:30pm, Sun-Mon 5:30am - 2:30pm.