Friends of Sherman Swift Tower seek volunteers

Error message

  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 133 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to get property 'settings' of non-object in _simpleads_adgroup_settings() (line 343 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 157 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in include() (line 24 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/templates/simpleads_ajax_call.tpl.php).

The chimney swift's nest is a half-saucer of loosely woven twigs stuck together and cemented to the chimney wall with the bird's glue-like saliva. Both parents contribute to the nest, breaking off small twigs with their feet while flying through branches, returning to the nest with the twigs in their bills. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

In 2009, The Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower built a replica of Althea Sherman’s 1915 chimney swift tower at National, with the goal of attracting chimney swifts to nest there. At one time the group was larger, but currently local residents Ron Kaiser, Joyce Schoulte, Deanna Krambeer and Donna Zittergruen are the only active members. 

The group became organized in 2007, but it took them two years to decide to build a replica instead of trying to obtain the original and raise funds to do so. 

"Mrs. Howard Keehner, (Sharon) was the impetus for the group," said Schoulte. "Without her push we would not have become organized."

Althea Sherman

Althea Sherman (1853-1943) was a nationally known ornithologist who studied birds at her home in National. She is best known for her study of the chimney swift, constructing a 28-foot tall building with an artificial chimney down the center to attract the swift. Althea's eccentric, precise, creative and dedicated research left an abundance of historical information at her death in 1943.

"Althea's will was complicated and there was difficulty meeting her wishes," shared Krambeer. "The tower stood for about 20 years until Bob Baubendiek moved the tower to Andy Mountain Campground near Harpers Ferry." 

From there, the Johnson County Songbird Society took interest in the tower. It eventually ended up in a barn on a trailer owned by the Cedar County Historical Society. The historical society partnered with the Johnson County Songbird Society to restore the tower and placed it at the Bickett-Rate Preserve five miles west of Tipton. 

"At one point, when our group was larger and just getting organized we asked for it back, but they refused," said Schoulte.

Chimney Swift

The chimney swift is a smudge-gray bird best identified by its silhouette. The swift can be seen nimbly maneuvering over rooftops, fields, and rivers catching insects. This mysterious little bird spends almost its entire life airborne. When a swift does land it is unable to perch, but clings to vertical walls inside hollow trees, caves and chimneys. The species has suffered sharp decline as chimneys fall into disuse.

"The migratory birds begin arriving in May and start laying their eggs in June. In August they begin their long journey back to South America," said Krambeer.

Joyce Schoulte, who lives next door to the Sherman Swift Tower replica, is grateful for the arrival of the swifts in the spring. "They are wonderful neighbors. It is amazing how many mosquitoes they eat!" she shared. 

Each spring the members prepare the tower for the arrival of the swifts. "We clean it out, take the cap off, hook up the solar panel to the monitor and tackle any general maintenance jobs," they listed.

Replica tower

The 28-foot Sherman Swift Tower replica has a winding stair to the top, an artificial wooden chimney down the middle for the nesting swifts, and  signage at the site and an audio recording telling more about Althea and her important work. Tours are given in the fall when swifts are not nesting, or by appointment. "The tower is located near the National Cemetery where the Shermans are buried, and a rest area with a portable restroom, which draws quite a few visitors each year," commented Shoulte.

Guttenberg's Swift Tower 

Several years ago the Friends group provided financial support to Eagle Scout Jonathan Klaes of Guttenberg for his Eagle Scout project. "The replica is located on City property by the swimming pool," Kaiser noted. 

"We were sad to see the old school building in Guttenberg torn down. There used to be hundreds of migrating swifts roosting in that chineny in the fall," Krambeer told The Press. 

The Friends group is grateful for all the community support  "We have been very fortunate with donations from local residents, and received grant money from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Commission, Alpine Communications and the Iowa Ornithologists Union," they noted. 

Swifts night out

The local group observes a national "Swifts Night Out" the second full weekend in August and September. "The swifts flock together at night and will drop down into chimneys to rest. It's quite a sight," they shared with a smile. 

The Friends group is available for educational programming. "If someone wants a special program we are willing to do that," they offered. "We presented a play for the Clayton Ridge fifth graders with the Garnavillo Historical Society about Althea and her research. Additional information and Sherman artifacts can be seen at the Garnavillo Historical Museum."

The group meets quarterly and membership dues are $15 a year. "We use the money to help finance others who would like to build a tower, and for upkeep on the structure, camera and audio equipment, and rack brochures. We are always looking for members or volunteers," they added.

For additional information, or if you would like to become a member or volunteer, see the organizations website at or e-mail Joyce Schoulte at

Rate this article: 
No votes yet