Saturday, October 5, 2013

Audubon - the man and the town

Many brief biographies fail to mention it, but one of America's earliest and most famous naturalists spent a fair amount of time in New Jersey. As we've knocked around some of the southern counties, I've been pleased to see John James Audubon's name pop up from time to time, along with descriptions of his findings and the illustrations he painted based on the specimens he collected.

John James Audubon,
perhaps recalling his days in New Jersey
If his diary is any indication, he was a bit of a fan of the state, himself. "Dawn in New Jersey in June is worth a better description than I can furnish," he wrote. "Except for the Florida Keys, Great Egg Harbor probably affords the naturalist as varied a field as any part of our Atlantic seaboard." His explorations influenced his drawings of species of owls, warblers, flycatchers, finches and thrushes that have been enjoyed by generations of bird lovers in his Birds of America.

What I didn't realize, though, was that he lived on Cooper Street in Camden for a few years, between 1829 and 1832. Besides making the cross-state trip to Atlantic County, he found his own birding patch about six miles from home, along a stream in what was then Haddon Township. For some reason, short biographies of him don't mention this, despite the fact that he grew up at his father's estate across the river in Philadelphia.

Nearly 100 years later, the community around Audubon's Camden County stream hangout separated from Haddon Township and formed its own government, taking the name of the man who explored its woods and chronicled its wildlife. The great naturalist probably wouldn't recognize his namesake town or what's now known as Haddon Lake as his old stomping grounds, but no doubt John James Audubon would be touched by the honor.

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