north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     The area around Beaufort, North Carolina, has long been valued by marine biologists for its research potential. Zoologists established a field station there as early as 1860 and in the 1870s officers stationed at Fort Macon published a series of articles detailing the marine life. In 1899 the federal government located a fisheries laboratory at Beaufort, only the second in the nation after one at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, often vacationed at Beaufort and worked at the lab, which operates to this day on Pivers Island. Nearby is the Duke University Marine Laboratory founded in 1938. Seaside laboratories, where work could be conducted on living specimens, were a response to the limitations imposed by campus settings. Louis Agassiz of Harvard in 1873 established the nation’s first such lab on the Massachusetts coast. Today there are over 500 seaside labs around the world.

     The first sustained marine research in Beaufort was sponsored by the Chesapeake Zoological Laboratory of The John Hopkins University. Professors and students from the school conducted their initial summer laboratory in 1878 at Hampton, Virginia, moving the next year to Crisfield, Maryland. Beginning in 1880 they rented a house on the waterfront in Beaufort. In a typical season ten to twelve researchers stayed in the house. Their objective was to study southern fauna whereas the laboratory founded by Agassiz in New England studied the marine life in northern waters. In 1883 they moved back to Hampton, returning to Beaufort for 1884, 1885, and 1886. For five years beginning in 1886 the summer program was not held; it resumed operation in Jamaica in 1899.

     Their headquarters for each of the six years in North Carolina was a house on Beaufort’s Front Street built by Seth Gibbs in 1851. The house remains and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gibbs House was also home to the federal fisheries laboratory from 1899 to 1902 when its permanent headquarters were completed.

The John Hopkins University, Annual Report, 1883-1886
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, November 2, 1880
Charles S. Manooch, III, and Ann R. Manooch, “History of the Federal Fisheries Laboratory at Beaufort, North Carolina,” Marine Fisheries Review, (n.d.)
C. P. Idyll, ed., Exploring the Ocean World: A History of Oceanography (1972)
Gibbs House, National Register of Historic Places nomination (1972)Paul Brooks, The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work (1972)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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