|African Farm & Feather - The Bloomsburg Ostrich Farm|
In the early 1900's, William H. Hile had an idea to help the poor earn money. His plan was an ostrich cooperative. Beautiful ostrich plumes were all the rage at the time, in high demand for ladies hats and home decor. In 1909, South African exports of Ostrich plumes amounted to $30,000 annually. Feathers were selling for $20 a pound.
|An Ostrich Plume Hat|
|Hile Capturing an Ostrich in Africa|
The African Ostrich Farm and Feather Company was formed by Hile and his shareholders, with $1,000,000 capital.
One hundred and fifty acres, the Ringrose farm at Espy Station, along the D.L.& W. railroad area, was purchased for the venture. A large plant was erected for the breeding and care of the ostriches. Steam pipes were buried in the ground and covered with sand, to providing warmth and comfort for the tropical birds.
A feather house was constructed, and an ostrich plume outlet was opened in Bloomsburg.
|"Mr Hile headed a caravan into the wilds of Africa to capture ostriches for the Bloomsburg Pa farm, and he got 53. The picture shows him returning across the desert to port iwth his catch. The skin shown is that of a lion shot by Mr Hile.|
Hile then imported forty expensive breeding ostriches from Africa. The farm also included Belgian draft horses, Guernsey cattle, and Berkshire hogs, and it operated a limestone quarry for fertilizer, a deposit of high grade stone, estimated at over 7,000,000 tons being on the land.
When everything was in place, Hile invited to the public to come and see the operation - and incest. Excursion trains ran from Scranton, Sunbury, Williamsport, and other nearby communities, to see the birds. Admission was 25 cents.
Visitors were warned not to wear shiny jewelry, eye glasses, or buttons, as the fowl may attempt to eat those objects.
Ostriches are unique animals. Each male as a number of females. The females all lay their eggs in one communal nest, where they take turns sitting during the day. At night, the male sits on the nest, to guard it. The birds are incredibly strong. They can kill a horse with a single kick, and can run up to 40 miles an hour.
Although the animals produced eggs, and remained healthy, not a single chick was successfully hatched. A local barber who was renowned for his ability to hatch turkey, goods and duck eggs, was enlisted to find a solution. After months of experimenting, he managed to hatch 42 chicks.
But he refused to divulge his secret.
Within a few years time, the market for the ostrich plumes had dwindled. They were no longer in fashion on ladies hats, and sales dwindled. The flock of mature birds dwindled down to just two, which were finally sold to a Bloomsburg restaurant owner for $25. They served the eggs in their restaurant.