September 24: On This Day, the Research Station Was Founded

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It was on this day in 1938 that the Huyck Preserve Board of Directors voted to establish a biological research station at the Preserve. The meeting—which was held Saturday, September 24, 1938, at 8:30 p.m., at Jessie Huyck’s home—had been postponed from September 21 because a powerful hurricane, nicknamed the Long Island Express, had swept through southern New England, New York, and the Albany Capital region. It was “one of the most destructive and powerful hurricanes in recorded history,” according to the National Weather Service (https://www.weather.gov/okx/1938HurricaneHome). But the meeting minutes merely “noted that a record should be made that in view of the severe storm on September 21st, that both dams stood up under very heavy strain.”

Instead, the board members were focused on a matter that would determine the future of the Preserve—deciding whether to accept the recommendation of Cornell biologist William Hamilton to establish a biological research station on the property. Hamilton had been invited to the Preserve in 1937 to assess whether scientific research might be conducted there, saw the potential, and presented his recommendations to the board and the members at the Annual Membership Meeting in July 1937. It wasn’t until September 1938, however, that the board “approve[d] the establishment of a biological research station on the Preserve for a trial period of three years, at an additional cost not to exceed $3,000 a year.”

Hamilton was then charged with assembling a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) that would hammer out a plan for the research station as well as choose the scientists who would work at the Preserve. The SAC, which included some of the leading biologists of the day, chose Dutch biologist and ornithologist Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907–1988) as the first resident naturalist. He accepted the position, but was never able to assume it because he landed in a German hostage camp for two years during World War II. Incidentally, in 1973, Tinbergen shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz “for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns.”

The person who ended up being the Preserve’s first resident naturalist, in 1939, was ecologist Eugene Odum (1913–2002), who later became the founder of ecosystems ecology (the study of the fluxes and flows of material and energy through natural systems). And many important scientists followed. The research station made it past its three-year trial and is thriving today. You can read more about the founding of the Preserve’s research station in my earlier blog post The Early Years of a Biological Field Station (April 17, 2013): https://lscnews.wordpress.com/?s=field+station

About that hurricane…. My grandmother, Katharine Huyck Elmore, used to talk about how the community members worked all night putting sandbags on the Lake Myosotis Dam during a terrible storm. I’m trying to find out whether that storm was the hurricane of 1938. Stay tuned for a blog post about that soon.

About L. Stephenson Carter

L. Stephenson Carter is a science writer/editor and was also on the board of directors of the E.N. Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, NY.
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