Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

J. Warren Jacobs (1868-1947), of Waynesburg, Greene County, was an artist, essayist, poet, bird watcher, and woodworker. A versatile individual, he fashioned cabinets, display cases, and furniture for his library and the “J. Warren Jacobs Museum of Applied Oology,” housed in two rooms on the second floor of the family’s residence on South Washington Street in Waynesburg. He advertised the museum as “an institution for the study and relationship of birds.”

Although little appreciated by Way­nesburg’s residents, the J. Warren Jacobs Museum of Applied Oology attracted attention – and acclaim – in ornithological and oological circles. Prominent visitors from throughout the country, among them scientists Arthur Cleveland Bent and W.E. Clyde Todd, traveled to Waynesburg to study his collection of bird eggs. Other visitors included Gifford Pinchot, William Howard Taft, and William Jennings Bryan. Jacobs’s extensive collection of eggs garnered a gold medal at the 1904 Louisiana Pur­chase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Cannillo, California, acquired the collection in 1977.

A naturalist in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, Jacobs exercised many talents during his long and productive career. A competent artist, he patiently observed birds to produce a number of sketches in pen and ink. Many of these drawings – ­several completed when he was only twenty years old – still exist. Jacobs was particularly interested in the migration of birds and made a study of their migratory habits by observing purple martins that occupied houses he had built and placed on his property. In 1916, he circulated a pamphlet condemning he indiscriminate killing of hawks (see “Soaring above ‘this school in the clouds by Nancy J. Keeler in this issue).

It was not long before Jacobs’s interest in birds developed into a lucrative business. His birdhouses were in such demand that he established the Jacobs Birdhouse Company, which shipped its fanciful creations throughout the United States, as well as to Europe. He turned out a variety of houses in a wide range of styles and sizes. For his favorite species, the purple martin, he crafted special models, including the monumental Capitol, which contains more than one hundred rooms, weighs more than five hundred pounds, and stands more than six feet in height. The time on the clock in the tower of the aviary extravaganza represents the time at the end of the Spanish American War, in 1898. Jacobs’s magnificent Capitol is on exhibit at the Greene County Historical Society and Museum, headquartered in a mid-nineteenth-century brick farm house. Individuals interested in learning more about the birdhouse or its maker may write Greene County Historical Society, P.O. Box 127, Waynesburg, PA 15370; telephone (724) 627-3204.