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Bird high rise.

Purple Martin Capital of the Nation

Field review by the editors.

Griggsville, Illinois

The water tower of this small west-central Illinois town warns all foolish enough to leave the Interstate that they have ventured into the "Purple Martin Capital of the Nation." But even before the water tower type is visible, visitors will have passed an alarming number of tall poles supporting multiple-dwelling bird houses. They seem to be on almost every street corner. Near the town center, a 70-foot-high, 562-apartment bird skyscraper pokes up into the blue, visible for miles by its intended inhabitant -- the Purple Martin.

The bluish-black bird -- once an endangered species -- has rebounded thanks to protection by a federal law, boosterism of towns like Griggsville, and a unique talent. A single Purple Martin can supposedly eat 2,000 mosquitoes a day.*

The town lies in the vicinity of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers; in the muggy summer months, a cloud of blood sucking flying insects can descend on an unprepared community. This problem isn't unique, or even at its most extreme in Griggsville -- just head south into Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana for serious bug bite Hell. The Purple Martin makes short work of insects in a wide swath of the Americas. In fact, at least a dozen other towns claim to be "Purple Martin Capital of [YOUR STATE HERE]."

Sign: 2000 Mosquitoes per day.

But Griggsville was unique as a town whose principle industry was the manufacture of Purple Martin living quarters. J.L. Wade, a nature lover and former antenna manufacturer, started his Trio Manufacturing Company down the PM housing path in the mid-1960s.

Purple Martins are mostly incompetent when it comes to building shelters, so they rely on human efforts where their natural roosts have been destroyed. The PMs winter in Brazil, and return north each year. In the 1960s, during the DDT pesticide scares, Griggsville adopted this novel approach to pest control. Wade converted his antenna operation to a bird house-building factory.

The 562-apartment high rise was constructed in 1962.

Wade's company, now called Erva Tool and Manufacturing Co., provides a variety of architectural solutions (although it stopped building the birdhouses within Griggsville in 2007). Owners can run the bird condos up and down a pole, like raising and lowering a flag -- though preferably not while the PMs are inside. Wade, called "the P.T. Barnum of the bird world" in some circles, spent many years pumping and promoting his unique pest control solution around the country, selling T-shirts and hats celebrating "America's Most Wanted Bird."

While Purple Martin civic pride has burst from Griggsville and gripped many other towns, we wonder whether the market for high density birdhouses has finally peaked. Some say the bird migration through Griggsville has shifted elsewhere (blame it on Climate Change?).

A little conversion work and vacant bird condos could double as cell phone towers. "2,000 mosquitoes a day... and 2,000 free minutes on weekends!"

* According to a study by the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the PM, a type of swallow, eats all manner of flying insect, but the mosquito hype may be misleading. As noted on"Their diet is diverse, including dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, bees, wasps, flying ants, and ballooning spiders. Martins are not, however, prodigious consumers of mosquitoes as is so often claimed by companies that manufacture martin housing."

Purple Martin Capital of the Nation

Purple Martin Blvd, Griggsville, IL
I-72 exit 35, then north three miles into town.
Birds migratory; April they return. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Grave of Robert Earl Hughes, World's Heaviest ManGrave of Robert Earl Hughes, World's Heaviest Man, Benville, IL - 13 mi.
Metal Vent ManMetal Vent Man, Jacksonville, IL - 27 mi.
Fake Mural Painter in Town of MuralsFake Mural Painter in Town of Murals, Louisiana, MO - 25 mi.
In the region:
Karlock Cars and Pop Culture Museum, Hannibal, MO - 33 mi.

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