That time Saratoga had an ostrich farm

ostrich harness cart saratoga ostrich farm 1900

As one does in Saratoga.

Albany Archives pointed out today that Saratoga Springs had an ostrich farm back around the beginning of the 20th century. And something about this photo of people riding in an ostrich-drawn cart made us want to know more.

So, from Saratoga Illustrated: The Visitor's Guide of Saratoga Springs (1900):

on Geyser Avenue, about a half mile from the village, is one of the entertaining sights of Saratoga and is a unique feature. Here in an enclosure of about two acres are exhibited some of the finest specimens of African ostriches, Chinese golden pheasants, and English pheasants that are to be found in any country. Birds of all ages are here to be seen with various developments of plumage--from the slender pin feathers of the baby birds a few days old to luxuriant and brilliant plumages of the full-grown ostrich weighing 250 to 300 pounds each. Most of the ostriches have been brought to Saratoga from the celebrated ostrich farms in Florida, Arizona, and California, but some of the wee birds have first seen the light in the buoyant Saratoga atmosphere. Each pair of breeding birds is kept in a small corral of about 50 by 150 feet, and are fed on clover, hay, corn, oats, barley, etc. The younger birds roam in troops in larger enclosures, and a group of birds running with their wings out- spread, alarmed, it may be, at some unusual sight, is a most beautiful spectacle. The birds are all named, and some of the breeding birds bear the names of such distinguished magnates as President McKinley, Queen Victoria, Mark Hanna, Joe Wheeler, Napoleon and Josephine, Admiral Dewey and Miss Manila, etc.

(Josephine and Napoleon were a mating pair -- two of their chicks, "fat and healthy," hatched in October of 1900 at the farm.)

An average bird weighs from 250 to 300 pounds and stands seven to ten feet high. The ostrich is omnivorous and voracious and to some extent carnivorous. Shortly after pairing the birds build their nests, which they do by digging holes in the ground in which the eggs are laid.
An ostrich egg weighs about three and one half pounds. The unfertile eggs are blown and are readily sold, either plain or decorated, as souvenirs of the Florida Ostrich Farm, for one dollar each. The wing feathers of the male ostrich are the largest and most valuable, and many of them are ivory-white in color and very beautiful. Beautiful ostrich feathers are on exhibition at the ostrich farm on Geyser Avenue, with souvenir eggs and other specimens. It will well repay the visitors of Saratoga Springs to pay a visit to this interesting and unique exhibit. The admission fee to the corral is 25 cents, but one who sees the exhibit will feel amply repaid for the visit.

ostriches florida ostrich farm saratoga springs 1900

Over at the Brookside Museum's website there's an article that mentions ostrich farms at the time were both a tourist attraction and a source of feathers for the booming millinery business. The Saratoga farm was apparently a branch of a farm located in Jacksonville, Florida. An Adirondack Life article mentions that one of this farm's birds -- Oliver W., pictured above -- was described as "positively the only thoroughly harness-broken ostrich in America today." (Here's another photo of Oliver W.)

So, why Saratoga Springs? Well, it was a big resort destination at the time with plenty of wealthy summer tourists. And it sounds like there was also a family connection between Saratoga and "Alligator Joe" Campbell, proprietor of Jacksonville ostrich (and alligator) farm.

photos from Saratoga Illustrated: The Visitor's Guide of Saratoga Springs (1900) via archive.org

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You know… just in case that whole horse thing didn't work out.

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