|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Indiana Governor Noah Noble sensed the need for a trained scientist to study and catalogue the new state's natural resources so the state could develop them properly. He proposed the bill to that the Assembly passed on February 6, 1837 that authorized the State Geological Survey. After passage, he appointed New Harmony's David Dale Owen as the first state geologist.
The Indiana State Geological Survey
The assembly authorized the governor to appoint a person with "talents, integrity, and suitable scientific acquirements as geologist for the State of Indiana." The post would pay $1500 per year with an expense allotment of $250. The geologist was required to survey the sites of public works first, and then follow up with a detailed survey of the entire state. He was to prepare a "detailed account of all remarkable discoveries made, and the progress of the work." The act stipulated that the geologist make an annual report to the legislature to inform it of his progress.
David Dale Owens (1807–1860)
David Dale Owens was the third son of New Harmony's founder Robert Owen and his wife Caroline Dale. One of the leading geologists in the United States, William Maclure, was a part of Robert Owen's experiment at New Harmony and it is likely that David's fascination with geology came from his exposure to Maclure. Maclure had done a geological survey of Tennessee in 1837. David Dale built an impressive geological laboratory and museum in New Harmony and studied extensively in the field. He would become one of the preeminent geologists in the United States. He likely became acquainted with Governor Noble during one or more of Noble's several visits to New Harmony. This acquaintanceship led to his recommendation of Owen as the first State Geologist.
The First Survey
Owen received word of his appointment on March 31, 1837 and set to work immediately. In order to understand the state's underlying strata, he traveled by boat down the Wabash from New Harmony to the Ohio. From there he traveled east, studying the bluffs that towered over the river along the way. During this time, Indiana had passed the Massive Internal Improvements Act that authorized the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. This rail line required an extensive cut in the rocky hills above Madison. Owen used this cut to study the rock formations it went through. He continued his study to Dearborn County. In order to cover the entire state, he established a zigzag pattern across it, traveling along these lines, studying the geology as he went. His survey, though never completed, uncovered the state's coal resources as well as iron ore, limestone and sandstone.
The Indiana State Geological Survey staff currently occupies the Geology Building of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. It pursues a mission of providing geologic information and counsel that contribute to the wise stewardship of the energy, mineral and water resources of the state.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning