Although the Finger Lakes region has seen colonizers and explorers, exploiters and developers, the area has also seen its fair share of scientists, naturalists and conservationists, many of whom have ties with Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) and who have made a significant contribution to what we know today about these unique lake systems and their ecology.
On display now at the Finger Lakes Institute is “Collection Fever and Scientific Adventurers: Historical Records of the Finger Lakes,” a compilation of photographs and research documented by some of the area’s leading scientists from the 19th and 20th centuries.
“It took over a year to research and layout all of the information,” says Sarah Meyer, community outreach coordinator for the FLI. “One piece of the puzzle led to the next. There was so much information, it was impossible to include it all.”
The exhibit includes profiles of early “pioneer scientists”, many self taught hobbyists-such as Seth Green (pisciculturist), James Hall (geologist), Henry A. Ward (naturalist) and Henry Sartwell (botanist)-who, because of their connection to the Finger Lakes, studied the area to advance scientific understanding.
“It was very exciting to trace the research and collections to their roots, right here to Geneva, and other communities such as Romulus, Penn Yan, Ithaca, and Rochester,” Meyer says. “Of equal excitement was how this research links to Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
The exhibit recognizes early scientists and conservationists who not only had ties to HWS but also significantly contributed to the earliest body of knowledge about the Finger Lakes’ environment, thus making some of the research done today at the FLI possible.
This includes Elon Howard Eaton, hired to establish the HWS biology department in 1908 and played an integral role in the limnological studies of Edward Birge and Chancey Juday, two of the pioneers of limnology who studied inland waters. Copies of Eaton’s hand-drawn maps and handwritten data sheets are displayed in the exhibit highlighting his love of birds and his position as State Ornithologist between 1908 and 1914. Theodore T. Odell ’20, a HWS biology professor, assisted with the 1927 NYS Biological Survey and shared an interest in the distribution of fishes in the Finger Lakes with Eaton.
The exhibit also features early women scientists and nature enthusiasts. In a field dominated by men, in a time when education and research opportunities for women were scarce, women like Anna Botsford Comstock and Emmeline Moore set the bar. Comstock, who was the first woman HWS trustee and who received an honorary degree from the Colleges in 1930, made her mark on the study of Finger Lakes ecology as a conservationist, nature study educator, scientific illustrator, woodcarver and amateur entomologist. Moore, the first female director of the New York State Biological Survey, received an honorary doctorate from HWS in 1939. Moore worked with Elon Eaton while director of the NYS Biological Survey, as he studied fish and food sources in the Oswego River system, which includes Seneca Lake.
The exhibit highlights the artistic impressions of Finger Lakes ecology-from the poetry of Dr. Kenton Stewart, professor emeritus of biological sciences at SUNY Buffalo, to the drawings and paintings of John William Hill, who in the 1800s worked for the New York State Geologicial Survey as a topographical artist and, into his retirement, painted the fauna of the state of New York.
“These artistic expressions are yet another valuable way of interpreting science that deserves recognition,” Meyer says.
As Community Outreach Coordinator, Meyer provides leadership and direction for the FLI community outreach program, by coordinating the ongoing lecture series, annual conferences and symposia, writing publications and newsletters, and managing the content of the FLI’s website. In addition, Meyer presents educational programs on a variety of topics, designs and produces the FLI educational exhibits, and recruits college students and citizens of the Finger Lakes region for internships and public service opportunities.
A native of Geneva, N.Y., Meyer earned her B.S. and Masters of Professional Studies from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y.
The Finger Lakes Institute is dedicated to the promotion of environmental research and education about the Finger Lakes and surrounding environments. In collaboration with regional environmental partners and state and local government offices, the Institute fosters environmentally-sound development practices throughout the region, and disseminates the accumulated knowledge to the general public.