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Kent Scientific Foundation
Twenty-eight years after Louis Campau came to the rapids the little community of pioneers who had followed and formed the nucleus of the present day city felt need for the acquisition and dissemination of scientific knowledge, with its accompanying intellectual stimulus and, therefore, in 1854 organized the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History. Its membership comprised the outstanding citizens of the day. John Ball was first president, W. L. Coffinberry and Charles Shepard vice-presidents.
In 1865 a group of high schools boys formed the Grand Rapids Scientific Club which, in 1867, took the name of Kent institute. These two organizations became rivals in public interest and in the scientific value of the collections they amassed. In January, 1868, through the diplomacy of Dr. Edwin A. Strong, they amalgamated under the name of Kent Scientific institute.
The roster of the institute, which remained active until 1910, reads as an enumeration of the leading intellectual lights of Grand Rapids, past and present. Other than those mentioned, the following names of member now dead recall men who left their impress on the community: Dr. Ezra S. Holmes, Dr. W. H. DeCamp, H. J. Hollister, J. W. Sligh, and P. G. Hodenpyl.
At the beginning of the present century the collections then brought together were so extensive as to be a burden to the institute and their utilization for educational purposes needed all the time of a keeper whose services were gratuitous. Appreciating the instructional value of a museum, the board of education acquired title to the collection in 1902. The following year the residential property, now occupied, was purchased, the museum installed therein and thrown open to the public in 1904.
The board of education administered the museum for four years. In 1906 its management was delegated to the Library commission. In 1917 the new city charter created the Art and Museum commission, which has since been in charge.
The museum quickly outgrew its first quarters. A temporary shed was erected in the rear to accommodate a seventy-foot whale skeleton, Civil War cannon, an extensive wood collection and other bulky exhibits.
In 1917 internal pressure demanded more space and an old residence in another block, diagonally across Jefferson avenue, was rented, and this also was soon crowded with specimens. At present, more than a third of the museum's holdings, embracing many entire series and other specimens that should be added to displayed collections, are in storage because of lack of space in which to show them.
The usefulness of the museum has grown apace until it has become an important factor in the education of school children. In the last fiscal year is gave lectures, nearly all illustrated by stereopticon or motion pictures or both, to 49, 399 persons, most of whom were school children, and has carried on a nature study room where hundreds of young people have been initiated into a knowledge of various branches of nature.
Its public exhibits have been made under such inappropriate and crowded conditions that to a considerable extent by have failed in impressing the adult public with an appreciation of the inherent value and interest of the museum's collections. The erection of a suitable building in which to arrange effectively and display these will soon place the museum in its proper position as an important agency in the development of scientific knowledge and of culture, such as its founders apparently visualized nearly three quarters of a century ago.
Henry L. Ward is now director. The board of art and museum commissioners includes Emerson W. Bliss, Tom Thoits, John J. Smolenski, Leslie A. Butler---and one to be appointed.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 10 December 1999