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Louis Agassiz Fuertes Memorial Bird Sanctuary: A Chronology (Part One of a Series)

- By Jane Graves

(See also Part Two and Parts Three and Four)

Stewart Park birders often check out the Swan Pen area for migrants. They generally do not pay attention to the concrete area with pillars on its south side. This corner of Stewart Park has played an important part both in Stewart Park’s and the Cayuga Bird Club’s history.

After Louis Agassiz Fuertes’s tragic death in an automobile accident on August 22, 1927, there was a move, both in the Cornell and Ithaca communities, to establish a public memorial for this great man in the form of a bird sanctuary. Fuertes had been the president of the Cayuga Bird Club from its inception in 1913 until his death and was active in the Rotary Club as well as the Boy Scouts. The project originated with the Ithaca Rotary Club, where it was proposed at a meeting the Wednesday after his death (Ithaca Daily Journal, January 14, 1928, p. 7).

Progress was made rapidly, with the headline in the Cornell Daily Sun on September 30 (p.8) reading:“Committee to Plan for Prof. Fuertes Memorial…,” and stating that on September 29 “ Dean Albert W, Smith ’18 and Carl Crandall ’12 were appointed by the Stewart Park Commission of the City of Ithaca to confer with organizations and persons interested in the establishment of the Louis A. Fuertes Memorial Bird Sanctuary for the purpose of cooperating in the general plans of the sanctuary.”

Reprinted from Cornell Daily Sun, March 22, 1928, p. 5


In its November 10 issue (p.8), the Cornell Alumni News headline reads “Sanctuary Plan Approved” and states that “a general committee, made up of representatives of various organizations in Ithaca, has approved the plans formulated by Professor E. Lawrence Palmer, ’11 of the Rural Education Department for the Louis Agassiz Fuertes Wild Life Sanctuary. The general committee has appointed a sub-committee to investigate the project and to obtain a definite estimate of the cost. The findings will be presented to the Ithaca Board of Public Works and the Stewart Park Commission for approval, to be followed by a financial campaign to start work on the sanctuary, which is to be located at Stewart Park at the head of Cayuga Lake.”

By the end of the year, the committee had indeed presented its project plans to the city. The headline in the January 5, 1928, issue of the Cornell Alumni News (p.174) reads “Approve Fuertes Memorial: Ithaca Ready to Raise Funds to Create Bird Sanctuary in Memory of Famous Naturalist” and states that: “The Bird Life Sanctuary proposed by a committee of Ithacans and Cornellians as a memorial to Louis Agassiz Fuertes ’97 received last week the sanction of three administrative bodies of Ithaca. The Stewart Park Commission, the Board of Public Works, and the Common Council approved the project and the plans prepared by Carl Crandall ’12. The approval means that a campaign for funds to remodel a part of Stewart Park, at the head of Cayuga Lake, to provide for the sanctuary will soon be started….. The sanctuary would be at the head of Lake Cayuga, directly in the path of the flight lanes of wild ducks. On the proposed tract is an old boat house, ideally suited for use as a museum and a post for bird observation…..”




A fundraising announcement appeared in the Cornell Alumni News, February 9, 1928, p. 238:, “Louis Fuertes’s friends in Ithaca are being approached for contributions to build a wildlife sanctuary at Stewart Park. ….The project was Louis’s own plan. His plan is being closely followed. The sanctuary will be known as The Louis A. Fuertes Memorial Wild Life Sanctuary The minimum fund required is $6,000. This will undoubtedly have been secured by the Citizens’ Committee before Louis’s birthday on February 7. Funds beyond the minimum will be very welcome, and will be used to complete the full plan. The Citizens’ Committee includes Louis P. Smith, chairman, Sherman Peer ’06, secretary, Albert W. Smith ’78, treasurer, and E. Laurence Palmer ’11, Ralph C. Smith ’15, R. Warren Sailor ’07, and Robert E. Treman ’09.” Cornellians who wish to help Ithaca build this memorial to their friend should send checks payable to Albert W. Smith, Treasurer, 13 East Avenue, Ithaca, N.Y.”

 Louis Agassiz Fuertes

By late March, construction of the sanctuary had begun. The article in the Cornell Alumni News for March 29, 1928, p. 323, Reprinted from Cornell Daily Sun, March 22, 1928, p. 5 Louis Agassiz Fuertes October 2012 12 Cayuga Bird Club Newsletter reads: “Detailed Plans for the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary have been published. You remember the old Cascadilla Boathouse, on the little cove where Fall Creek empties into Cayuga Lake? Well, the sanctuary will include the boathouse and the marshy land near the Lake shore as far east as Stewart Park. The southern section of the marsh will be dredged, and water allowed to enter through sluices. A constant flow will be assured through this pool, which will be about four feet deep. At the southeast corner will be a feeding pond, where free food will be supplied in winter. An artesian well will be dug, so that the feeding-pond will be kept open all winter. A moat will encircle the swampy area, to keep out cats and other preying animals, including the bathers who will continue to use the beach between the moat and the lake….The boathouse will be made a seasonal museum of feathered fowl; an observation balcony will be constructed upon it. Birds with clipped wings will be kept in the sanctuary, to serve as decoys to passing fowl. Promenades are also to be constructed for visitors.”

To be continued...