The Bird Man of Hamilton County
With the Blatchley Nature Study Club celebrating its 100th anniversary this month, this seemed like the perfect time to devote a column to the man most responsible for the club’s existence, Dr. Earl Brooks.
Although Dr. Brooks is probably best known as a naturalist, that was just one facet of his amazing life. He truly was a “mover and shaker” during his lifetime — not just in Noblesville and Hamilton County, but on a state level as well.
Originally from Fall Creek Township, he graduated from Noblesville High School in 1902. Five years later, after finishing his studies at the Indiana Dental College in Indianapolis, he moved back to Noblesville and opened a practice which he kept up until his retirement 43 years later.
Dr. Brooks’ civic activities were so numerous, I only have room to name a few of them.
In 1913 he was elected to the Noblesville City Council at the age of 30, becoming the youngest person ever to hold a seat on the council at that time.
He was a charter member of Noblesville’s Kiwanis Club and served as the organization’s second president.
He was also the chairman of the first Forest Park Board, and played an important role in establishing Forest Park.
During the 1923 Hamilton County Centennial, he snapped photo after photo of the action, providing us with a visual record of the celebration that we wouldn’t otherwise have. (You can view Dr. Brooks’ photos at the Indiana Memory website, https://digital.library.in.gov.)
Dr. Brooks’ state-wide activities include a stint as president of the Indiana Dental Association. He was also elected a fellow of the Indiana Academy of Science in 1934.
A member of the Indiana Audubon Society for over 30 years, Dr. Brooks served as the organization’s president from 1928 to 1936 and was its first editor.
From 1946 to 1959, he was the executive director of the society’s Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Fayette County. Brooks Hall, the main meeting hall at the sanctuary, is named for him.
But, getting back to his most significant local contribution . . .
In 1922, when Dr. Brooks was president of the Noblesville Kiwanis Club, the Kiwanis sponsored a lecture on birds by Dr. M. L. Fisher, the president of the Indiana State Audubon Society.
The public was invited to attend and the interest generated by that lecture resulted in the organization of the Hamilton County Nature Study Club, as the Blatchley Nature Study Club was originally known. (The name was later changed to honor Hoosier naturalist, W. S. Blatchley.)
In 1945, the Noblesville Daily Ledger ran a series of articles by Dr. Brooks on the birds of Hamilton County.
Later that year, those articles, plus a chapter on Indiana birds not observed in this county, were published as “Common Birds of Indiana.” It was the first book about the birds of Indiana in nearly 50 years and was considered a “must have” for every public and school library in the state.
Dr. Brooks signed all rights to the book over to the Blatchley Club for their building fund, but his generosity didn’t stop there. In 1963 he deeded 15 acres of woodland just north of Potter’s Bridge to the club for the establishment of a sanctuary for native plants and wildlife, and the construction of a clubhouse.
This weekend, you can visit Dr. Brooks’ gift to the club yourself and enjoy some late-blooming wildflowers.
In honor of the 100th anniversary, the Blatchley folks will again be offering Spring Wildflower Walks at their sanctuary, 125 Boulder Dr., Noblesville, this coming Saturday, April 30, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. The guided tours are free and open to the public.
Thanks to Nancy Massey for additional research.
– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at email@example.com