Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/May 1897/The Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences


THE scientific work of our Government bureaus and of the great universities of our country is of supreme importance and justly arouses the pride of every American. It is not likely to be overlooked. The work of local societies is less imposing, but is of the highest importance and calls for more than a passing word. In many American cities there are organizations of persons who are intelligently interested in science. These hold regular meetings for discussion, publish papers as new contributions to science, and gather museum collections which serve as object lessons to the public. Few persons realize how much such local organizations, supported by private means and personal enthusiasm, are doing for the cause of science. To make known the story of some of these academies of science and to sketch their work is the purpose of the series of articles of which this is the first. To present their achievements and their claims to respect and assistance is a task which the author gladly undertakes, being one of the many students who have been helped and encouraged by them.

The choice of the Davenport Academy of Science as the subject of this first article is simply from convenience. In some respects the story of its origin and development is typical, in others unusual. There is rather more of personality in it than in most, for the Davenport Academy has had a peculiar environment. When it was organized the city of Davenport was in the "far West"; opportunities for literary and scientific work were meager; the town itself was small, commercial, unsympathetic. That any organization of its kind so far from other centers should exist and thrive was astonishing.

In 1867, on December 14th, four gentlemen—Messrs. L. T. Eads, A. U. Barler, A. S. Tiffany, and W. H. Pratt—met in a business office to organize a natural history society. No one of the four was a professional scientist; all were busy men; none of them was really wealthy. They added names enough to their own to supply officers and a board of trustees, drew up a constitution and by-laws, and then and there became an actual society. Thereafter regular meetings were held and topics of more or less scientific importance were discussed. Before a year had passed the membership had grown to more than fifty, and the attendance at the meetings indicated continued interest. A cabinet of natural history was begun and a place for its display was secured in the rooms of the Davenport Library Association. The first sign. however, that the organization was really purposing to advance the sum of human knowledge was given when the academy arranged for the scientific observation of the solar eclipse of August 7, 1869. The undertaking was a somewhat serious one for the little group of workers. Money had to be secured and subscription lists were passed. Arrangements were made for photographing, and during the two hours of the shadow three dozen negatives were made, of which twenty were fairly good. From them sets

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Fig. 1.—Building of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences.

of prints were made, some of which were sold to repay expenses, others of which were sent to foreign societies. It was the first exchange contact of the academy with the scientific world.

In July, 1873, the academy, now nearly six years old, rented "a small back room," into which it put three or four cases for its collection and where for the first time it felt itself at home. The next year more commodious quarters were obtained in the Odd Fellows' Building. Increasing activity showed itself by weekly conversaziones of a popular kind in addition to the regular meetings, by the purchase of a geological library, and by field work in local archæology. More room was necessary, and the lady members—for lady members had been determined to be a good thing—bestirred themselves to secure and furnish a second room. This was progress, but greater things were in mind. Even as early as March, 1873, there was talk of buying property or a building. At that time a combination scheme was in mind, the Library Association, Horticultural Society, and academy uniting in the purchase. Fortunately, the plan failed. On Washington's birthday, 1877, Mrs. Newcomb donated a building lot to the academy. The fever to build was fanned. Before the year ended plans were drawn up and the building erected. Just one year to a day from the donation of the land the building was opened.

The first president of the academy was Prof. David Sylvester Sheldon.[1]

He was born in Vermont, December G, 1809. At six-teen years of age he went to Castleton Academy, and three years later to Middlebury College, where he was graduated in his twenty-third year. Studying theology at Andover, he never preached, but entered the vocation of teaching. For a time he was principal of the academy at Bennington, Vt., then taught at Potsdam, N. Y., and still later at Northampton, Mass, At thirty-nine years he had lost health and was compelled to travel in the South. Going West later, he settled at Burlington, Iowa, in 1850. When forty-four years old he accepted the chair of Natural Science in Iowa College, then located at Davenport. Later on the college removed to Grinnel, but Prof. Sheldon remained in Davenport, where subsequently he took a professorship in Griswold College, retaining it until his death in 1886. Prof. Sheldon was an inspiring teacher, a man of excellent thought, and of kind and lovely character. He was an ardent collector and student, but not a writer. Local zoology and botany occupied much of his attention, and the remarkable collection of fresh-water Unios which he made greatly delighted Louis Agassiz. In his botanical field work, the afterward eminent botanist Sereno Watson, then a young man, was associated with him. When the Academy of Science was organized, Prof. Sheldon, then a man of sixty years, was urged to be president. He retained the office only a few months, but up to the last week of his life he was the academy's trusted counselor, constant supporter, and faithful friend.

Fortunately, there was then in Davenport one who was a professionally scientific man—Dr. C. C. Parry. For more than six

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Fig. 2.—David Sylvester Sheldon. Fig. 3.—Charles Christopher Parry.

years he was president of the academy. From the start he held the idea that the academy was called to a higher purpose than to supply pastime to a few townspeople. Charles Christopher Parry was born in Admington, Gloucester, England, August 28, 1823. When he was but nine years old his parents came to this country, settling in Washington County, New York. Educated at Union College, Schenectady, he studied medicine at Columbia College. He settled in Davenport in 1846. There he was a diligent student of the local flora. Later on he examined the mountain flora of California, Colorado, and Mexico. He was official botanist of the Mexican Boundary Survey. Later he held official positions in the Department of Agriculture and as special agent of the Forestry Department of the census of 1880. His journeys to every part of our great Western mountain region were extensive and scientifically productive. He was the discoverer and describer of many new species of plants and of several important genera. His name is associated with that of Torrey and Gray both in geography and on the pages of botanical literature. A man of energy, convictions, and heart, he was the very one to shape and mold a young society's work. In one of his presidential addresses before the academy, Dr. Parry emphasized the importance of three things to be held constantly in mind toward which to work. These were (1) a home, (2) a complete local collection, (3) publication. These three aims have ever been before the academy. We have seen how they gained the first; the second has been in view from the very inception of the society; the third began early to be agitated.

The election of a schoolboy to membership in a scientific society might seem to mean little, but to the Davenport Academy it meant much. One of the charter members of the academy. Prof. Pratt, was writing teacher in the public schools, giving instruction from building to building. At times he told the scholars to write anything they might have in mind on slips of paper and to hand them in to him. On one such occasion a boy not fourteen years of age wrote the words Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences. On inquiry. Prof. Pratt found that the boy had read of the academy in the newspapers and wanted to know what it was. When told of the meetings and collecting excursions he desired to become a member, but only if his mother could become one also. PSM V51 D095 J Duncan Putnam.jpgFig. 4.—J. Duncan Putnam. The question of lady members had not before been raised, but now posed it was soon solved. J. Duncan Putnam and his mother were elected to membership, June 2, 1869. The ardent enthusiasm of the schoolboy and the mother's love were to do more for the academy than the few members voting at that meeting could realize. It was this mother's interest that led to the second rented room, to the donation by ladies in 1875 of new cases and carpets, to the gift by a woman in 1877 of the lot, and to much of the energy and interest displayed by the townspeople since. It was the boy's enthusiasm and the mother's love that led to the publication. Impelled by Dr. Parry's words and his own feeling of its importance, J, Duncan Putnam on November 26, 1875, then a boy of nineteen, urged the academy to publish Proceedings. A committee was appointed to look into the matter and to devise means if possible to carry out the plan. December 20th a company of ladies—the Women's Centennial Association—agreed to see that the first volume of Proceedings, covering the years 1867-'75, should be printed. It was no easy task. Entertainments were given and other ways of raising money devised. A fire interfered seriously, but at last the handsome octavo volume was printed and turned over to the academy. The volume formed part of the display of PSM V51 D096 M L D Putnam.jpgFig. 5.—Mrs. M. L. D. Putnam. women's work and achievement at the Centennial at Philadelphia in 1876. The happy result of publication upon the academy was immediately apparent. The Proceedings were sent to all parts of the world, and the library of the academy has grown almost entirely out of its exchange. The publication has not only benefited the scientific world by making known valuable original work, but it has made the academy widely known. The Proceedings have been continued up to the present time, and Volume VII is now in progress. During his lifetime the Proceedings were ever in J. Duncan Putnam's mind. Volume II was due to him, and early in 1881 he offered to turn over to the academy a complete printing outfit and to personally superintend the publication of Volume III. He did not live to complete it, and that volume is a memorial volume, the final bringing out of which is due to Mrs. Putnam. Since her son's death this lady's great desire in connection with the academy has been to see the publications continued. Her energy has never flagged, and finally she has seen the future of the Proceedings assured.

One of the notable papers in the first volume of the Proceedings dealt with the archaeological treasures found by the academy's workers in the mounds of Iowa and Illinois, not far from the city. Local archaeology began to attract the academy's attention about 1873. A little group of interested students did the work of exploration mainly at their own expense and often with their own hands. Important objects had been found. In 1874 the academy published a series of seventeen photographs of seven mound-builder skulls. At the 1875 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Robert James Farquharson represented the academy and read a paper upon these finds. It was this paper to which reference is made above. Its author was no common man. Born of a Scotch father and a Kentucky mother at Nashville, Tenn., July 15, 1824, he was a graduate of the University of Nashville in 1841. At that time Dr. Gerard Troost was connected with that institution, and young Farquharson was profoundly impressed by him. Graduating in 1844 in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Farquharson settled as a practitioner in New Orleans in 1845, and in 1847 was appointed assistant surgeon in the United States Navy. Resigning in 1855, he returned to Nashville and married there. Through the war a strong Unionist, he was in hospital service, and at its close removed to Arkansas. In 1868 he went to Davenport. He joined the academy in its first year, and for twelve years was an important factor in its work. In 1880, being appointed to the State Board of Health, he removed to Des Moines, where he resided until his death in 1884. Unusually modest, quiet, and unassuming, Dr. Farquharson was a profound thinker and an original investigator. Among his notable studies was an interesting investigation upon Leprosy in Iowa.

In this same first volume were several important entomological papers by J. Duncan Putnam. Mr. Putnam's election has already been mentioned and his interest in the Proceedings PSM V51 D097 Robert James Farquharson.jpgFig. 6.—Robert James Farquharson. described. In the history of American entomology there are no more devoted workers. Although dying when most men begin work, he had accomplished more than many who live long. He was born at Jacksonville, Ill., October 18, 1855, his mother being the daughter of the second Governor of Illinois. When a boy of eleven years he began collecting insects, and three years later was a serious student of his gatherings. He joined the society in 1869, and at fifteen years of age, in 1871, was its recording secretary. In 1872 he took a three months' trip into Colorado, where he met John Torrey and Asa Gray, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. In 1873 he was appointed meteorologist on the Jones Yellowstone Exploring Expedition, which was in the field for five months. Returning home, he continued his preparation for Harvard College, but was obliged to give up all hope of a collegiate course on account of failing health. It was in December of that year that his first hæmorrhage of the lungs occurred. Although knowing perfectly what lay before him, the young man kept unflinchingly onward. Wrapped up in his loved science and toiling like a strong man in the service of the academy which had won his boy-heart, he kept happily and wholesomely busy to the very end. His labor in a loved cause no doubt PSM V51 D098 Wilfred P Hall.jpgFig. 7.-Captain Wilfred P. Hall. prolonged his life, but at last, December 10, 1881, the long expected summons came. The monument of that young life consists of a series of papers, chiefly entomological, of no mean merit—and the academy. In 1872 Duncan Putnam found his first specimen of Galeodes. This belongs to the family Solpugidæ, a curious group related to the spiders and scorpions. From that date on his interest centered upon this little-known and curious group. To so good profit did he labor that even now in our latest general authoritative work on insects Prof. Comstock names Putnam as the chief authority. The results of his study were not fully ready for publication at the time of his death, but Prof. Herbert Osborne put them in shape for the printer. They comprise one brief paper—Notes on Solpugidæ, an important Bibliography, and data for a Monograph upon the American Galeodidæ. All of this material, beautifully illustrated by the author's own drawings, was published in the memorial volume of the Proceedings. Besides the material upon the Solpugidæ, Mr. Putnam's work includes a score of important papers which were printed in the Proceedings, Popular Science Monthly, United States Government reports, etc. The whole motive in J. Duncan Putnam's work was to do what ought to be done. As he himself once said, "If others are unwilling to do what ought to be done, I must." No one outside his family knew him better than Dr. Parry, who said of him: "Though over thirty years his senior in the broad field of Nature, we occupied the same level. Always respectful to my personal wishes or suggestions, never flinching from any imposed duty, always cheerful, hopeful, and zealous, he proved a companion worthy of the highest regard, which he never forfeited either by word or deed." By his activity in field work Mr. Putnam gathered a collection of twenty-five thousand specimens, representing more than eight thousand species of insects. Some of these were type specimens from which he had himself described new species. This whole collection, together with his entomological library, was turned over by his parents to the academy, upon certain conditions securing its proper care and integrity, June 25, 1886.

The archæological work of the academy has been done in two localities. Among Davenport residents who have been interested in the academy is Captain Wilfred P. Hall, better known as "the old man of the skiff." Captain Hall through a long series of years made great journeys on the Mississippi and its tributary streams in a little boat. Among the Arkansas mounds he made extensive diggings and collected many beautiful and valuable relics. The district is a rich one, especially in objects of pottery and shell. When fine specimens were found in private hands, the captain would secure them by purchase or exchange. In his barter, books, including dictionaries, were of special use. After every trip Captain Hall brought back new and interesting material, until the academy's collection was one of the finest, if not the best, from that district. It was this collection that supplied the better part of William H. Holmes's important paper upon the

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Fig. 8.—Pottery from Arkansas Mounds.

Ancient Pottery of the Mississippi Valley.[2] Captain Hall's collection is still one of the strongest features in the academy's museum, and the old skiff in which he traveled so many thousands of miles is still preserved on the academy's grounds. The other region archæologically explored by the academy is the local PSM V51 D100 Copper axes wrapped in cloth.jpgFig. 9.—Copper Axis wrapped in Cloth. field immediately around Davenport. In the investigations here some most important facts regarding mound construction and burial have been secured and curious and valuable relics found. Among these local relics are skulls, objects of shell, carved stone pipes, copper axes wrapped in cloth (the structure of which has been preserved by impregnation with salts of copper produced by atmospheric action), and stone tablets bearing inscriptions or pictorial designs. None of these relics have attracted so much attention as two of the stone pipes, called from their shape "elephant pipes," and the tablets, which are three in number, two of black slate and one of limestone. About the authenticity of these five objects a bitter controversy has waged. The matter first appeared within the academy August 29, 1884, when attention was called to an article by H. W. Henshaw in the Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. In this article the authenticity of the elephant pipes was seriously impugned. A committee was appointed to look into the charge and meet it. A somewhat acrimonious discussion, in which many took part, was conducted in various periodicals. Mr. Charles E. Putnam, father of J. Duncan Putnam, and president of the academy, prepared a vindication, which was published as an independent pamphlet, and later republished with an appendix of congratulatory letters from various archaeologists. While this is not the proper place for discussing the authenticity of these specimens, it may not be out of place for the writer to say that to his judgment no substantial argument by the opposition demonstrates either the falsity of the specimens or fraud on the part of the academy. A careful examination of the objects themselves by a disinterested and impartial committee has never been made. Until it has been, every expression of opinion can only be personal.

Up to the year 1883 there was no paid office in connection with the academy. Early in 1883 the heavy labors devolving upon the curator were emphasized, and the payment to him of a salary was uged. Toward the end of that year the modest sum of five hundred dollars was voted as salary, the incumbent being Prof. W. H. Pratt, one of the original four of 1867. At about the same time the financial condition of the academy made a vigorous effort on the part of its friends to relieve it from debt quite necessary. There was a little balance of indebtedness upon the building and other obligations had arisen. An appeal was made to the city, and a citizens' meeting was held on April 24, 1883. At that meeting twelve hundred and ninety dollars was subscribed, and, by a short canvass among the citizens, that sum was raised to twenty-nine hundred and sixty dollars, more than enough to pay all debt. The surplus, amounting to nearly one thousand dollars.

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Fig. 10.—Slate Tablet, Davenport.

was set apart toward a permanent fund, the interest only on which was to be available.

Just at this time of favorable financial condition came the attack upon the elephant pipes. Whether this was intended to harm the academy or not, it had that result. The society was already weakened by loss of active members. Death or removal had taken from the academy Sheldon, Putnam, Parry, and Farquharson. Interested and self-sacrificing members remained, but they were not professional scientists. The attack surprised some, PSM V51 D102 Slate tablet from davenport.jpgFig. 11.—Slate Tablet, Davenport. disgusted others, discouraged more. A few brave workers kept their hands on the work. Among them the curator was indefatigable. The care of the collections was but a small part of his labors. Besides that he had many of the cares of correspondence and of the library. He it was who encouraged the young members of the Agassiz Associations. To make the academy useful to a larger company than its own membership, he organized and delivered courses of popular lectures to the children of the public schools; these were given at the academy, and were illustrated by its collections. Classes from the different schools had their set times for these lectures, and the result of them was encouraging. The experiment might well be tried at other places.

While not directly an academy enterprise, it is certain that its work and influence led to the holding of the second annual convention of the Agassiz Associations of the United States at Davenport in 1886. There were then two flourishing chapters of the "A. A." in the city, one at the high school and the other in the grammar schools; the combined membership was about seventy. That the active young members of these chapters drew a large amount of their interest from the academy is beyond doubt. The meeting at Davenport was a great success, and young scientists throughout the United States were stimulated by it.

With the death of Charles E. Putnam and the later removal of the patient curator to Minneapolis, the little force of workers was still further reduced. The one thing that held the organization together beyond all others was the publication with the mother love, erecting a monument, behind it. In 1886 the publication fund was begun with a gift from Charles Viele, of Evansville, Indiana, of fifty dollars. From that time the idea of keeping the Proceedings alive was foremost in mind. Mrs. Putnam exercised every energy to secure the funds. The curatorship had passed from Prof. Pratt to Prof. Barris, whose important papers on local geology are a valuable part of the Proceedings. Leaving to him all the curator's duties and more, she devoted herself to this. In 1895 she saw her desires gained: a bequest of ten thousand dollars was left in that year by Mrs. Mary P. Bull as a permanent publication fund, a memorial to Charles E. and J. Duncan Putnam.

With this substantial encouragement the academy now looks forward with increasing hope. Much needed improvements have just been made in building and cases; books have been rearranged in the library; much needed binding of pamphlets and magazines has been done. The membership is increasing, and when the faithful few long toilers are gone new recruits will be ready. Definite plans of growth and development are shaping themselves. An effort is making to raise the permanent endowment fund to PSM V51 D103 Charles E Putnam.jpgFig. 12.—Charles E. Putnam. fifty thousand dollars. When that is done a paid secretaryship can be established to direct and organize the work. Then, with permanent publication secured and direction and activity insured, an effort will be made to complete the building. The edifice already constructed is only the rear part of a far more extensive one. On the lot before it is ample space for a large and imposing structure. The present building is of brick, and is in two stories. The dimensions are shown on the accompanying ground plans. The front door opens on a central hallway, on either side of which is a small, square room. One of these is the office and workroom of the curator; the other contains the Putnam entomological collection and library, and is used for the regular monthly meetings of the academy. Behind these rooms is the main museum hall. It consists of a ground floor, with a second story gallery running around its four sides. On the main floor are the collections in natural history, representing all departments, and particularly rich in local zoölogy and geology. Here are the results of the field work of Sheldon, Pratt, Barris, and Pilsbry, not to mention many other local collectors. Here are Captain Hall's collections from Arkansas, and the tablets, pipes, copper axes, and other notable specimens from the local mounds. PSM V51 D104 W H Pratt.jpgFig. 13.—W. H. Pratt. In the gallery are collections of minerals and an extensive series of stone-age tools and weapons. In front of this gallery and over the hallway and two front rooms of the lower story is the library, which can be used as a hall for a reasonably large audience. The library is one of the best devoted to science in the West, and has been chiefly secured in exchange for the Proceedings. Nominally it contains more than forty thousand volumes; but this number must be considerably reduced, as latterly single issues of periodicals have been catalogued under distinct numbers. With all reductions made, however, the library is important. Publications in twenty-two different tongues are on its exchange list.

Among the most recent subjects in which the academy has interested itself is an archaeological study of the State of Iowa, planned by the writer. The plan involves several distinct pieces of work:

1. The preparation of a bibliography of Iowa antiquities.
2. The publication of a summary of Iowa archæology.
3. Organization of field work throughout the State.
4. Publication of a final report and an archaeological map.
5. Preparation of a series of diagrams and casts of an educational character for distribution to the higher institutions of learning in the State.

The first two parts of the plan have been accomplished, and the academy is now endeavoring to carry out the third. While the academy has given and is giving considerable attention to archaeology, it is not neglecting other lines of science, and papers of importance in geology, botany, and entomology are in its hands for publication in the near future.

Thirty years is not a long time, even in America. In December, 18!7, the academy will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary by a special meeting. It may then look back with pride over its record. From a membership of four meeting in an office, it has grown
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Fig. 14.—Ground Plan of Academy Building.

to one of scores meeting in its own home; it has a neat building free of debt; it pays a curator a regular, if small, salary; it has something toward a permanent endowment fund; with six creditable volumes of Proceedings, it has a permanent invested fund of ten thousand dollars to perpetuate their publication; it owns a valuable museum, which is open free to the public, and acts as a constant incentive to develop scientific interest. And all this has been done by the academy in a small town in the West, without the assistance of any particularly wealthy patrons.


  1. colspan=2 The list of presidents of the academy is as follows:
    1867.—Prof.D.S.Sheldon. 1884.—H.C.Fulton
    1868–’69–’70–’71–’72–’73–’74.— Dr. C. 1885–’86.—Charles E. Putnam
    C. Parry. 1887–’88.—Charles E. Harrison.
    1875.—Dr. E. H. Hazen. 1889–’90.—Dr. Jennie McCowen.
    1876.—Prof. W. H. Barris. 1891.—James Thompson
    1877.—Rev. S.S. Hunting. 1892.—James Thompson (dies night of his election, Dr. William L. Allen, 1st Vice President, acting President 1892)
    1878.—Dr. R. J. Farquharsoe.
    1879.—Mrs. Mary L. D. Putnam.
    1880.—Prof. W. H. Pratt.
    1881.—J. Duncan Putnam. 1893.–’94.—Dr. William L. Allen.
    1882.—Dr. C. H. Preston. 1895–’96.—Edward S. Hammatt
    1883.—E. P. Lynch.
  2. Proceedings, vol. iv. Expanded to cover a larger field and under another title in annual report, Bureau of Ethnology.