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The History of Earth Sciences at SU

Portrait of Chancellor Alexander Winchell
Chancellor Alexander Winchell

The history of the Department of Geology (now Earth Sciences) at SU begins with the arrival of Alexander Winchell in January of 1873 as first chancellor and professor of geology, zoology and botany. He was the first to occupy ordained chair 13 (geology, mineralogy and botany) in the new University which had been formed under the sponsorship of the Methodist Church. Winchell actually was the second choice after Rev. Erastus O. Haven (later second chancellor of SU) declined the appointment because of other commitments (Galpin, 1952).

Winchell, born in Duchess County, New York in 1824, had been educated at Wesleyan (graduating in 1847) and had won distinction as professor of geology, zoology and botany at the University of Michigan as well as serving as director of the Michigan Geological Survey. He also had been president of the Masonic University at Selma, Alabama, and attracted considerable attention with his book on “Sketches of Creation.” The Board of Trustees and Faculty were impressed with his accomplishments and offered him the position; after consultation with friends and family he accepted.

Winchell however soon became disenchanted with being chancellor. It required an inordinate amount of time and there was the constant problem of raising money for the fledling university. So after only two years he resigned as chancellor but remained on the faculty teaching for another five years. A year later he accepted a position at Vanderbilt University until he received a call to return to Michigan.

Winchell was first of all a scientist and a scholar. He published almost 100 papers including nine books. A list he kept of his literary compositions numbered 566 (Winchell, 1892). He was cofounder of the Geological Society of America and of The American Geologist . He has been called the “Father of GSA” and served as its third president in 1891.

In February and March 1876 the University all but suspended activities as Winchell organized a school of geology providing instruction in elementary and advanced geology and in addition delivered 10 lectures on “The Derivative Origin of Species.” The following year he repeated his performance with eight popular lectures, “Chapters from the Lifetime of a World.” Apparently, he returned to the campus only once after leaving (in 1879) and then to give the J. Dorman Steele lecture in 1888. He died in Ann Arbor in 1891.

The Department has recognized his contributions with the Alexander Winchell Distinguished Alumni Awards. Winchell Hall was opened in 1900 as a university dormitory (demolished in 1984 to make room for Schine Student Center).

The first classes of geology were given in Hall of Languages (HL), although some of them were given in the Myers Block in downtown Syracuse. Room 31 HL was listed as the location of Wednesday and Friday of Winchell's course on geology for seniors during the winter term (13 weeks) of 1875. Geology was required of seniors in the classical curriculum during their third term.

Portrait of Dr. Lucien M. Underwood
Dr. Lucien Underwood

By the time Winchell left in 1879, geology was an established course in the university. He was replaced by Lucien M. Underwood (instructor and later professor of geology, botany and zoology, and 1889 professor of mineralogy), who had been a student of Winchell's and had just obtained his PhD from SU in 1879. He was followed by the Rev. Charles W. Hargitt, a biologist by training, who was professor of biology and geology from 1891-94. Apparently no geologist was on the faculty from 1894-95 and again from 1886 to 1900 although geology courses were offered. Edmund Chase Quereau was professor of geology and mineralogy from 1895-96. Others during the late 1800's who taught geology were Frank Smalley, who received a Masters in Geology but a PhD in Latin; Oscar Rogers Whitford, a mineralogist and later with King Gold Mining and Developing Co., and Edward Henry Kraus, a student of German and mineralogy, who later distinguished himself at the University of Michigan.

In 1900 Thomas Cramer Hopkins was appointed professor of geology. Hopkins had been educated at Stanford University and had just received his PhD from the University of Chicago. Previously he had been an instructor in chemistry at DePauw University, assistant state geologist of Arkansas, and assistant professor of geology at Penn State College. He was assisted in mineralogy by Edward Kraus who received his PhD in 1901 from the University of Munich. Kraus left for Michigan in 1904 and was replaced by Charles Henry Richardson (PhD, Dartmouth) in 1906. Richardson rose through the ranks from instructor to professor and Chairman of the Department of Mineralogy by 1909; Burnett Smith (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) was appointed an instructor in 1907.

Picture of Lyman Hall
Lyman Hall

It was in 1907 that the small three-man department moved to their new quarters on the third floor of Lyman Hall of Natural History (which also housed the Departments of Biology, Zoology and Forestry). The Geology Department library was moved from HL to Lyman during the term break in early 1908.

Thomas Cramer Hopkins (1861-1935) was an inspirational teacher; he was well liked and respected. Often the Geology Club met at his home located adjacent to the campus. Hopkins' prestige in academics was “rated in part by the number of his published works” (almost 50 titles) and “his wide acquaintance among geologists of the times added significantly to the benefits to be derived from his teaching” (Holmes, 1977). In 1958 W.B. Heroy endowed scholarships for the outstanding junior and senior majoring in geology in honor of his beloved professor.

Oil painting portrait of William B. Heroy Sr
William B. Heroy Sr.

The Geology Club was founded on 4 November 1905. The first Vice-President was William Bayard Heroy (PhB, '09), later benefactor and supporter of the Department. The Club was reactivated in the late 1920's and has been active since sponsoring field trips, seminars, and social activities. A professional geology fraternity, Pi Eta Sigma, was founded on 27 November 1915 and was active for about ten years.

The first part of the 1900's was a busy one, although activities were interrupted by two World Wars and seriously curtailed by a major depression. George B. Cressey became chairman of the combined Department of Geology and Geography in 1931. Hopkins and Richardson both retired that year. By 1945 the Department consisted of five faculty members, and some 50 advanced degrees had been awarded.

The New York State Geological Association had roots in Syracuse. Announcement of the first annual intercollegiate geological field trip meeting held in central New York (1925) and hosted by Hamilton College was issued by SU's Harry N. Eaton, secretary. Eaton then served as president in 1926 for the 2nd meeting in Syracuse. In addition, the 13th (1937), 22nd (1950), 36th (1964) and 50th (1975) meetings were held in Syracuse.

Apfel on ship with rest of SU crew

Members of the Syracuse University expedition to the Andes Mountains sailing from New York on the S.S. Carabobo. Front, left to right: Professor Sidman Poole, geographer; Dr. Robert L. Crockett, oculist; John Enfiejian, high school student and taxidermist; H. Wesley Curran, college student; Phillip Barnes, photographer and artist. Back, left to right: Dr. Parke H. Struthers, expedition leader; Dr. William B. Reid, surgeon; Mrs. Ida K. Reid; Mrs. John Scott; Dr. Earl T. Apfel, geologist; Dr. Ernest Reed, botanist.

After World War II the Department of Geology and Geography was split and George Cressey (PhD in both geology and geography) became Chairman of geography and Earl T. Apfel became Chairman of the Department of Geology.

Picture of John J. Prucha

John Prucha

Picture of Pat Bickford

Pat Bickford

Picture of Cathryn Newton

Cathryn Newton

Picture of Doug Nelson

K. Doug Nelson

Picture of Scott Samson

Scott Samson

Picture of Jeff Karson

Jeff Karson

Picture of Don Siegel

Don Siegel

Apfel was followed by William M. Merrill as Chairman in 1958 and John James Prucha in 1963.

Ernest H. Muller was interim Chair in 1970-71 and Daniel F. Merriam became the first Jessie Page Heroy Professor and Chairman in the spring of 1971. Merriam was Chair until his resignation in 1979. He was followed again by interim Chair Ernest Muller from 1979 until John Dickey assumed the position in 1981. Dickey remained chair until 1988. John James Prucha stepped in as interim Chair from 1988-1990 after a stint as Associate Provost.

Marion (Pat) Bickford resided from 1990-1993.

Cathryn Newton was Chair of the Department from 1993 until 2000 when she became the Dean of The College of Arts & Sciences.

She was succeeded by Doug Nelson, who was Chair from 2000 until his untimely death in 2002.

Pat Bickford was interim Chair until 2003 when Scott Samson, began his duties.

Jeffrey Karson became Chair in 2007.

Don Siegel became Chair in July 2013 and currently holds that position.

Numerous scholarships and awards have been established over the years to honor outstanding students and alumni. In 1961, Chauncey D. Holmes provided for an award for excellence in beginning geology, which is given annually to students with the highest grades in introductory courses and show the most promise in sciences. The Newton E. Chute Graduate Award was established in 1975 to be given annually to the graduate student judged outstanding based on scholarship, service to the Department, and professional promise. In 1976 the Faye M. Merriam Scholarship was endowed for a full-time SU undergraduate geology major to be awarded on academic achievement, need and professional promise. The Marjorie Hooker Award (AM 1933), established in 1977 in support of research, is given annually to the thesis or dissertation proposal judged outstanding by the faculty.

An auspicious event took place in the history of the Department in 1966. William Bayard Heroy approached the University with an offer to contribute money towards a geology building. Heroy had been supporting the Department through gifts for scholarships, equipment and research during the previous ten years. His offer was accepted graciously and the building named in his honor. The building was completed near the end of 1971 and the Department moved between semesters in December of 1971 and January 1972 from their third-floor quarters in Lyman where they had been since 1907 to the spacious new Heroy Geology Laboratory (HGL).

Heroy also endowed a distinguished chair of geology in honor of his first wife Jessie Minerva Page Heroy (PhB '08). D.F. Merriam was the first to occupy this position, which has been held by all subsequent Chairs.

Heroy (1883-1971) was active in many geological organizations and had served them in many capacities (Conselman, 1974). He was cognizant of his education as a factor in his success both as a professional geologist and in business, and as a result he gave generously to his alma mater, Syracuse, to Southern Methodist University, where he spent much time in later years, and to the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca. He gave money both to SU and SMU for buildings to house their geology departments. In recognition of his many accomplishments he received many awards and honorary degrees. He died in 1971.

The Department changed its name in 1993 from the Department of Geology to the Department of Earth Sciences, to more accurately reflect the range of teaching and research found within the Department. The change in the name of degrees offered by the Department did not occur until 2009.