Point & Retrieve
The National Bird Dog Museum in Grand Junction, TN,pays tribute to treasured breeds
Story by Mike Lee
At one special place in the Mid-South, owners and devotees of field dogs – specifically English Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Retrievers, Brittany Spaniels, German Shorthair Pointer, Reds, Pointers and Setters – have a dedicated and renowned facility; the sole reason for its existence being to honor them. The National Bird Dog Museum in Grand Junction, Tennessee is located 60 miles east of Memphis.
Dog enthusiasts are special people, often fanatical over certain breeds and devoted to them as pets or in some cases as highly trained working animals.
The National Bird Dog Museum in Grand Junction, TN, began as a personal dream of the late William Brown, who was editor of American Field magazine and dreamed of one day establishing the same for bird dogs, bird dog people and field trials.
His vision was caught by others devoted to the sport and by 1953, issues of the magazine were filled with articles related to and promoting the establishment of just such an organization. By 1954, it became a reality with the induction of five dogs and five persons into the then-newly formed Field Trial Hall of Fame.
Excitement and participation grew quickly among enthusiasts, even though trials were being held all over the country and various awards were handed out. There was not, however, one central and physical location for the Hall of Fame.
By the 1970s, different breed owners were conducting trials and holding competitions independent of each other when another visionary stepped in. Wilson Dunn, of Dunn’s Inc. — a retail and mail order company in Grand Junction — created a memorabilia room in his store that featured Field Trial sport-related items. It almost immediately became a must-see for visitors and those competing at the National Championships held each February at nearby Ames Plantation.
Word spread and many involved in the sport began to realize that a central Hall of Fame and perhaps a museum needed to find a home. At the time, two cities were proposed candidates — Oklahoma City and Grand Junction, TN — but it took another visionary to step in. That man, who would establish the present location, was eminent bird dog enthusiast Gary Lockee, who was at the time serving on the board of the Top Shooting Dog Award Committee.
Lockee purchased land in La Grange, TN for his residence and became good friends with Wilson Dunn. Together, each realized that they could spear-head an effort to establish headquarters in the area and each man contributed monies to purchase just under five acres in Grand Junction to build a home for what would become the Field Trial Hall of Fame and National Bird Dog Museum. Their vision would prove a lucrative effort since the location was close by the Ames Plantation, which had been home to the National Championships since 1874.
Tax-exempt status was gained for the new enterprise and Lockee and Dunn both traveled extensively to field trials and bird dog functions, raising funds in support of the new facility. And their efforts paid off handsomely.
Establishment of a governing body of officers was next and began in Oklahoma in 1989, with fourteen candidates invited. Construction of the initial building on-site in Grand Junction then began in 1990 and was completed in August, then furnished by February, 1991.
On February 16th, 1991, the ribbon cutting took place and guests were led into the building by a bagpiper where the first ceremony was conducted with the awarding of Hall of Fame scrolls. The initial building was comprised of 4,800 square feet and by 1993, construction of a second building of equal size was begun to house the Field Trial Hall of Fame. Then in 1996, a third 4,800-square-foot building was added for a library, gift shop, auditorium, wildlife heritage center, kitchen and a banquet room. Additionally, in 2004 a “Retriever Wing” was added and by 2011, a fifth building — the “Sporting Dog Wing” — was under way.
As support grew and funding increased, the world-wide fame of the operation became legendary. Prominent people in the world of field and working dogs came on-board in various capacities with their influence and expertise leading to the initiation of specific groups of dogs: the Retriever group in 1992, the Brittany group in 1996, specific Spaniel groups in 1999 and the German Shorthair Pointer group in 2008. And as time progressed, other breeds were inducted and space for their recognition was added so that, today, the complex stands as the bench-mark.
Whether interest in dogs is strictly as a pet or a professional perspective, a trip to Grand Junction to the National Bird Dog Museum is well worth it. The facility is filled with displays and recognitions, and even one highlighting a special letter of thanks and photos from former first lady, Barbara Bush regarding their well-known dog Millie. In the parking lot, cars with license plates from states all over the country and Canada are present everyday as visitors make the short one-hour drive east from Memphis to see the facility.
The National Bird Dog Museum is located at 505 Highway 57 East in Grand Junction, TN and can be reached at 731-764-2058.