Origins of the Marine Lab

The "Seaside Laboratory" (Gibbs House) of John Hopkins University
Sketch by Henry F. Osborne published November 20, 1880
in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper


Although many scientist and naturalists visited and documented the Beaufort, North Carolina area from the mid to late 1800s, Dr. Elliot Coues, an army physician stationed at Fort Macon in 1869-70, provided the greatest publicity for the potential of the Beaufort region for natural history research. The area became a significant place for scientist to gather information.

In the May 5, 1899 issue of Science magazine, the assistant Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, Hugh McCormick Smith, announced that the US Fish Commission would maintain a marine biological laboratory at Beaufort, NC. The only other station at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, had been established in 1885.


Joseph Austin Holmes, North Carolina State Geologist and head of Natural History Survey from 1891-1905, was primarily responsible for gaining support of the federal government for establishing the fisheries laboratory at Beaufort. Professor Henry Van Peters Wilson, professor and chairman of zoology at the University of North Carolina from 1891-1935, pressed for the establishment of the laboratory at Beaufort.


Dr. Henry Van Peters Wilson had spent several seasons in Beaufort as a Johns Hopkins graduate student. In 1899, Wilson, who had continued conducting research in Beaufort during the summers, was placed in charge of the new laboratory, which was for the study of questions pertaining to fish-culture, fisheries and marine biology. Professor Wilson was granted $300 with which he rented a "commodius building" on the waterfront and provided it with suitable laboratory equipment and a small working library. This building was the Gibbs house, built around 1850.


A steam launch was assigned and on June 1, 1899 the laboratory was opened for its first season. At this time Beaufort was reached by boat from Morehead City. Twelve men, faculty and students from various universities, had come to Beaufort by September - to use the laboratory for various projects. Even though these men conducted various research projects, all contributed in the effort to determine the animals and plants in and near Beaufort Harbor, including their abundance, local distribution, breeding times, habits, etc. The foundation was laid for a museum collection and a record book was opened.


Before the Laboratory reopened for its second season, President Theodore Roosevelt had signed an act of Congress authorizing the establishment of a permanent biological station on the coast of North Carolina. Land was acquired with the help of Alonzo Thomas and others - the laboratory on Pivers Island was officially opened on May 26, 1902.


Information and photos for this post were gathered from History of the Federal Biological Laboratory at Beaufort, North Carolina and