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Contents tagged with robert kennicott

  • Cataloging the Zoology of Illinois with Robert Kennicott

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    Tags: founders, Chicago Academy of Sciences, robert kennicott, kennicott

    Created: 11/7/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

    One hundred seventy-nine years ago today, one of the most important figures in the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum was born -- Robert Kennicott. His work lives on through the Nature Museum, but did you know that even before the birth of the Academy, his work helped naturalists and biologists better understand the zoology of Illinois as a whole?  

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott


    Robert was born to Dr. John and Mary Kennicott in New Orleans on November 13, 1835. The family moved to Illinois while Robert was still an infant, and settled in an area that would later become Glenview. Dr. Kennicott dubbed their home "The Grove," landscaping the property with walks, shrubbery and flowers. His father's love of horticulture and the outdoors undoubtedly had a profound impact on Robert. So much so that in the winter of 1852, Robert traveled to Cleveland to study under Dr. J.P. Kirtland, a naturalist and co-founder of what would become the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 


    Label for a specimen collected by Robert Kennicott
    Specimen collected by Robert Kennicott in 1855 in Union Co., Illinois

    In 1853, Robert returned home and began building and categorizing his collections, including fishes and reptiles native to northern Illinois. In the summer of 1855, at the age of 19, the opportunity arose to catalog the wildlife of Illinois on an even larger scale. The Illinois Central Railroad had just completed a track that ran from Chicago south to Cairo. In order to help publicize the wealth of the plant and animal life that ran along this new route, Illinois Central approached the State Agricultural Society in hopes of creating a preliminary survey of the state's natural resources. Participants in the study would be able to collect along the route, disembarking and embarking on any train they wanted. The Agricultural Society would just have to train the would-be researchers in the ways of natural history collecting. Robert's father, John, was the Society's secretary and recommended Robert for the job.

    He left for Southern Illinois on May 30, 1855 and worked on the project, hopping from train to train, for three months. Robert had hoped to make a compete catalog of the state's zoology, and viewed this assignment as just first step towards that goal. Kennicott's efforts did have a lasting impact. In late 1855, the Illinois State Agricultural Society published his findings as the first "Catalogue of Animals Observed in Cook County, Illinois" (even though the animals had primarily been observed in the southern part of the state). You can find his original study, and read it, here.

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  • Founder's Week: Chicago Academy of Sciences Timeline Part 1

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, timeline, hitsory, collections, founder's week, robert kennicott, william stimpson

    Created: 1/13/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1856
    Group of men interested in natural sciences begins to meet in offices of fellow member, Dr. Edmund Andrews.  Other original members were: Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman.

    1857
    “Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” officially founded only eleven years after the Smithsonian Institution and 36 years before the Field Museum of Natural History.

    “A definite organization was completed at a meeting held January 13, 1857…[and] officers elected”.

    1859
    Academy incorporated into Illinois state law as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences.”

    “A majority of the members of the Academy, acting in accordance with a vote of the Academy, have incorporated themselves under the title of The Chicago Academy of Sciences….”

    1864
    February 22 - Meeting held to discuss creation of natural history museum with Robert Kennicott’s specimens as the “core collection”; resolution adopted by attendees to create a museum and to appoint a committee to act as trustee of any funds raised.

    March 23 - Robert Kennicott appointed “Curator of the Museum” by the Board of Trustees.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    April 13 - Committee appointed on February 22 turned into the Board of Trustees through an amendment to the Academy’s constitution.

    1865
    January 1 - The Academy opened as a museum to the public in rooms in the Metropolitan Block located at 134 North LaSalle Street.

    February 16 - Act of Incorporation passed by the Illinois House and Senate for the Academy.

    William Stimpson became the Curator and Secretary of the Academy replacing Robert Kennicott who was leaving Chicago on an expedition to Alaska. Kennicott met Stimpson while working in Washington, D.C. as both men worked for the Smithsonian Institution.

    William Stimpson
    William Stimpson

    April 7 - Board of Trustees elects Robert Kennicott to the office of “Director of the Academy” while he is in Alaska on his exploration trip.

    May 13 - Robert Kennicott dies in Alaska on the Nulato River.

    1866
    June 7 - Fire in the Metropolitan Block where the Academy rented space for exhibits damaged the museum’s holdings, including specimens and library materials. 

    November 12 - William Stimpson elected as Director of the Academy.

    1867
    Land is purchased on the corner of Wabash and Van Buren streets for a new museum building.

    1868
    Academy opens in new rented spaces on Thirtieth Street between Indiana and Prairie Avenues.

    Chicago Microscopical Club (State Microscopical Society of Illinois) is organized as an independent organization but maintains close affiliation with Chicago Academy of Sciences through 1950s, using Academy spaces for meetings and education programs.  Many of the founders of the Club are also founders of Academy, such as Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson and Dr. Edmund Andrews..

    1870
    The Academy’s collection is estimated to be the fourth largest in the country.

    1871
    October 8-10 - The Great Chicago Fire destroys much of Chicago; the Academy’s building and holdings are decimated, including materials housed in a special “fire-proof” vault.  Apparently a keystone fell through the top of the vault during the fire, thus creating an opening and allowing the fire into the vault.

    1872
    May 26 - Director, Dr. William Stimpson, dies nine months after the Great Fire. It is thought that he died of heartbreak as he lost his life’s work in the fire, stored in the Academy’s “fire-proof” vault.

    1885
    Academy moved into the Interstate Exposition Building on the lake front. This was a temporary structure that later was demolished to build the Chicago Art Institute.

    1892
    Real estate tycoon, Matthew Laflin, donated $75,000 to construct a new museum. The building was to be named the “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” Total funds available for the new building were $100,000; the Laflin donation represented 75% of the total costs of the building. $25,000 received from the Board of Commissioners of Lincoln Park.

    1893
    October 10 - The cornerstone for the Academy’s new building is laid.

    October 30 - The World’s Columbian Exposition closes and many exhibits of plants, fossils, and animals originally displayed at the Exposition remain. Academy Board of Trustee, Edward Ayer, proposes accepting and incorporating these specimens into the Academy’s collection, but other Trustees are wary, citing the need to quickly launch the massive fund drive needed to quickly finish the building as well as transporting and finding housing for the specimens. Ayer resigns from the Board and turns to Marshall Field for the funds to build a new museum with Field’s name, ultimately becoming the Field Museum of Natural History.

    1894
    October 31 - The Academy’s new building is dedicated and opens in Lincoln Park. The institution’s name, “Chicago Academy of Sciences,” was engraved on the front arch accompanied by the dedication of the building, “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” This building was referred to internally as the “Laflin Building.” The building was originally intended to be the north wing of a larger museum building with additions to be constructed in the future.

    Chicago Academy of Sciences Matthew Laflin Memorial building circa 1894
    Chicago Academy of Sciences circa 1894

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Who are the Founders?

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    Tags: founding, founder's week, Chicago Academy of Sciences, kennicott, robert kennicott, laflin building, chicago fire

    Created: 1/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    In 1856 a group of like-minded men enthusiastic about the natural sciences began to meet in Chicago.  The original group consisted of Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Dr. Edmund Andrews, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman. The group began adding other names immediately to their list of members and formally became “The Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” on January 13, 1857, “The Chicago Academy of Sciences” by 1859, and in 1999, “The Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.” The dedication and labor of many people ensured that the Academy continued to serve the public throughout its 157 year history, and will continue to do so in the future. 

    The men who strived to establish the Academy in the early years faced many obstacles almost from the beginning. The financial “Panic of 1857” turned many of the promised financial subscriptions into useless bits of paper. Two fires impacted the collections, the first on June 7, 1866 in their rented spaces that decimated over half of the collection and then again during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that destroyed the Academy’s building and almost all of its holdings. A second financial panic effected the economy from 1873-1879, that hampered efforts to raise funds to pay off debt incurred to rebuild after the fire. When the Academy rebuilt their structure after the Great Chicago Fire, they also paid to erect an additional structure for business purposes designed to generate income for the Academy through the rents to be charged, but business expansion did not return aggressively to the area, so few were interested in the property and the Academy ultimately went into foreclosure. In spite of these early challenges, the Academy’s members and trustees never lost their dedication to establishing a permanent museum of the natural sciences and finally succeeded in 1894 with the completion of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building which served the Academy until 1994. Here is a brief overview of just a few of the individuals who helped bring about this outcome.

    Photo of Edmund Andrew
    Edmund Andrews

    It was in the offices of the Dr. Edmund Andrews (1824-1904) that the original members began meeting in 1856. Dr. Andrews was a practicing surgeon and also a teacher of anatomy and helped to form the Chicago Medical College. He developed and maintained an avid interest in geology, particularly in glacial history, publishing some of his findings in the Transactions of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. At the formalization of the Academy in 1857, Dr. Andrews was appointed the first Curator of the Academy and held that position until Robert Kennicott took over in 1863. Later he served as President of the Board of Trustees for a number of terms, the longest from 1883-1891.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    Robert Kennicott (1835-1866) was encouraged from an early age to learn about nature from first-hand experience. He began his more formal training when his father sent him to study with Dr. Jared Kirtland, a well known and respected naturalist. Through this connection, Kennicott met Spencer Fullerton Baird, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian, and in 1853 moved to Washington, D.C. to assist and collect for that institution. Kennicott’s participation in an exploratory expedition into northwestern Canada that was funded by the Hudson Bay Company, the Smithsonian, and individual Chicago patrons, provided the final spark for the impetus to find and open the museum to the public on January 1, 1865, since the Academy would have access to a sizeable collection almost immediately.

    George Walker
    George Walker

    George C. Walker (1835-1905) was a benefactor and life-time member of the Academy. He served on the Board of Trustees as Secretary and President as well as numerous terms as Treasurer. He owned various companies but the bulk of his wealth was made in local real estate. Walker became friends with Robert Kennicott and adopted the passion for the creation of a museum heralded by the latter. Walker committed the funding necessary to ship the specimens intended for the Academy and collected by Kennicott in his 1859 expedition to the Yukon and Arctic tundra from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. He then became the chairman of a ten man committee formed in February 1864 whose sole purposes was to obtain the money necessary to make cases and obtain the space necessary to display the collection. 

    Jacob Velie
    Jacob Velie

    Dr. Jacob W. Velie (1829-1908) trained as doctor in Hammondsport, New York, worked as a dentist in Rock Hill, IL, and a druggist in Bath, NY. During this time, he was an active naturalist, developing his own collection and participating in expeditions. For example, in 1864 he worked for five months with Dr. C.C. Parry, the noted botanist, in the Rocky Mountains. He became associated with the Academy in 1870 when he became assistant curator under Dr. William Stimpson. After the Great Chicago Fire, Dr. Velie and Dr. Stimpson traveled to Florida, Cuba and the Yucatan on a collecting trip of which many specimens were donated to the Academy, helping to start the rebuilding of the collections. Velie served as curator for the Academy until 1893, constantly adding to the Academy’s collections during that time. 

    Matthew Laflin
    Matthew Laflin

    Matthew Laflin (1803-1897) was a prominent Chicago businessman.  He built the Bull’s Head Tavern (then at Madison and Ogden) which became the city’s first stockyard as it provided pens for the cattle drivers.  It was through his son George Laflin that Matthew Laflin offered $75,000 to the Academy if an agreement could be reached with the Lincoln Park Commissioners to provide the land to build the structure and an additional $25,000 toward its completion.  An agreement was reached and the work began in 1893 with the final completion in 1894.

    Laflin Building
    Laflin Building

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

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