The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter XX
Flint Scientific Institute

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



One of the earliest of the societies for culture in Genesee county was the Flint Scientific Institute, composed of a group of persons who desired improvement in scientific knowledge and felt the need of books which they could not individually command. They associated to form a library of books exclusively on scientific subjects. The leader in this movement seems to have been F. H. Rankin, at whose office a society was organized in February, 1853. In March, 1854, a course of lectures was planned, also a series of weekly meetings for the discussion of stated subjects. There were of wide range, but mainly of a geographical nature.

While these studies were being pursued, the field of discussion was enlarged, May 15, 1855, by the adoption of a resolution offered by Mr. Rankin, by which section B was established to meet weekly on another evening, distinct from that devoted to scientific discussion, for the purpose of considering subject of a wider range, including history, literature and art. These meetings were carried on simultaneously with the others, with much interest in the animated discussion of a variety of subjects. At the same time the work of collecting materials for the museum was pushed forward until the accumulation became embarrassing and called out a resolution adopted June 22, 1855: "Resolved that the institute meet in a committee of the whole on Saturday evening next at six o'clock, and each consecutive evening except Sundays at the same hour, for the purpose of arranging and cataloguing the museum."

On October 24, 1855, the executive committee, in a report setting fort he the importance of some better arrangement for the increase and preservation of the museum, recommended the appointment of curators to take charge of the arrangement of the specimens in their respective branches, as follows:

Botany and Entomology---Doctor Clarke
Mineralogy---M. B. Beals
Osteology and comparative Anatomy---Doctor Stewart
Reptiles and Conchology---Doctor Miles
Ornithology---C. L. Avery
Paleontology--C. E. McAlester
Ichthyology--E. Dodge
Archeology---J. B. Clark
Miscellaneous---G. Andrews

These several curators reported from time to time the condition and needs of their respective departments.

On July 4, 1855, an entertainment was given by the ladies for the pecuniary benefit of the institute, the net proceeds of which were one hundred thirteen dollars sixty-three cents. This was the first of many entertainment subsequently given by the ladies of Flint and Genesee County, to whom much credit is due for material aid in sustaining the enterprise. With the funds thus obtained at this time valuable additions were made to the library, including a subscription to Professor Agassiz's great work, "Contributions to the Natural History of the United States." On January 2, 1856, a committee was appointed to inquire into the feasibility of publishing a history of Genesee County. The plan was to combine with an account of the settlement, a full description of the physical geography and natural history of all its departments. Many of the materials were at hand and probably the project might have been attempted but that a thorough geological survey of the state, including this county, seemed to be a desirable preliminary. Accordingly a committee was appointed, consisting of Doctor Miles, Mr. Rankin, Mr. Beals and the president, who proceeded to bring the subject to the attention of the Legislature by means of petitions circulated in all parts of the state and also by correspondence and personal interviews with many persons of influence. The project undoubtedly has an important influence in securing by legislative action the geological survey of 1859-60 by Professor Winchell. Doctor Miles was appointed his assistant, having charge of the zoological department., his preliminary report, containing a very full list of the animals, birds, reptiles and shells found in the state, was published in the first volume of Profession Winchell's report. This appointment was a deserved and gratifying compliment to the doctor and through his subsequent appointment to a professorship in the State Agricultural College, opened an avenue to his life's work in a congenial field which he most successfully cultivated.

With the inroads made by the Civil War upon its limited membership, it may well be conceived that after the war the most that could be hoped for was to keep the organization alive and preserve its material for future use. This was done, but the incubus of the war was upon every civil enterprise and it was hard for a time to do anything more. However, an effort was made and, after much canvassing, encouragement was received by assurance of support, to attempt a new start. For this purpose a specious hall was taken in an unfinished condition on a lease for a term of years. considerable expense was incurred in finishing and furnishing the room. The collection was moved with much labor and the new hall was dedicated to science with an address from President Angell, of the State University. But disappointment was again encountered, for while many were prompt and ready to meet their engagements, other neglected and declined to redeem their pledges and, deeming it unfair and useless to tax the generous friend of the institute further, it was decided to cancel the indebtedness by a transfer in trust to the union school district of the city of Flint. In the document of conveyance it is set forth that it is received "upon trust to preserve and maintain the library and cabinet of specimens of said scientific institute in a suitable room or rooms in the high-school building or some other suitable building, and to cause the same to be and remain forever free to the inhabitants of said city of Flint for examination and inspection at all proper times."

This transfer was made on January 5, 1877, and thus the valuable cabinet illustrating the natural history of the county and state, the result of years of labor and care in its collection and preservation, was lodged in a safe place, where it could be made directly available in illustrating the teachings of science, not only to the pupils of the high school, but to all who might wish to avail themselves of its advantages under proper restrictions. The tall cases of shells, fossils, minerals, botanical specimens, etc., are still a pry of the laboratory equipment of the Central High School. The new "public library" in those days was small enough to find easy accommodation in one of the recitation rooms. The presence, however, within the school walls of really fascinating classics made a tempting pasture, so 'tis said, for students who preferred browsing therein to doing their algebra, having been misspent in wrestling with our old friends A and B, "those peculiar men who paid their debts at such irregular times and in such extraordinary amounts, and who would haggle over mils and decimils of a mill. Unforgotten and unregretted those golden hours even yet; hours that might and who had the singular habit, when they wished to know the time of day, of reckoning it from the length of a shadow cast by a church steeple in Australia."


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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