Chadron State College's first museum was conceived in 1938 by college president Robert Elliott in discussions with celebrated vertebrate paleontologist E.H. Barbour of Lincoln and Barbour's daughter and CSC's first geology professor, Eleanor Barbour Cook. With help from her father and others, Eleanor Cook began endowing the museum collections with donated specimens from around the world. Part of Crites Hall, then under construction, was set aside for the museum. Albert Potter, the first graduate of CSC's geology program, was hired as an assistant.
The early museum was more of a "natural history" museum than one strictly devoted to geoscience. Records indicate that the early collections contained 585 vertebrate fossils, 637 invertebrate fossils, 700 minerals, 284 modern shells and corals, 111 mounted birds and 19 mounted mammals.
Mrs. Cook and Potter donated parts of their own collections to the museum and also enlisted help of their colleagues, including Barbour, Mrs. Cook's father-in-law Harold Cook and her sons-in-law Grayson Meade and Paul McGrew, Edwin Crites, Charles H. Morrill, E.F. Schramm, Edith Harris, F.D. Figgins, Gordon Fletcher and others. Major donor institutions included the University of Nebraska Museum and Geology Department, Chicago's Field Museum, the University of Michigan, Colorado Natural History Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Mrs. Cook retired in 1941 and Potter left the college in 1946, leaving the museum functionally unsupervised. Unfortunately, this left the museum's collections without appropriate supervision and many specimens were lost. Some of the collections were saved from disposal by then department head Art Sruempler and biology Professor Doris Gates. But only about 14% of the specimens from the original collection can now be located. Of the original collection of 700 minerals, 245 (35%) are extant. The recovery of mounted birds was better: 75 (68%) of 111 specimens. Vertebrate and invertebrate fossils fared badly: only 16 (1.3%) of 1222 specimens have been found.
During the 1970's and 80's the museum's prospects improved under leadership of professors Larry Agenbroad, Eric Gustafson and Darryl Tharalson. It is now supervised by Mike Leite, associate professor of geoscience. Dr. Leite's specialty is fossil mammals, and so many of the recent improvements have been in the display of vertebrate fossils. Other museum highlights include minerals and rocks from Black Hills pegmatite mines, meteorites, agates, and rock-forming minerals from around the world.
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