Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

History of the Illinois Natural History Survey's

Illinois River Biological Station

Stephen A. Forbes, the father of state science in Illinois, chose the Havana, Illinois area of the Illinois River to begin biological investigations in 1876.  He chose Havana for a laboratory site because good access to a relatively unpolluted stretch of the river and associated lakes was offered.   He had hopes that his studies, would eventually encompass the entire Mississippi River Valley.  His formal objectives for the Havana laboratory which soon followed in 1894, were quite ambitious:

"to provide additional facilities and resources for the natural history survey of the state, now being carried on, under legislative authorization, by the State Laboratory of Natural History; to contribute largely to a thoroughgoing scientific knowledge of the whole system of life existing in the waters of this state, with a view to economic as well as educational applications, and especially with reference to the improvement of fish culture and to the prevention of progressive pollution of our streams and lakes; to occupy a rich and promising field of original biological investigation hitherto largely overlooked or neglected, not only in America, but throughout the world; and increase the resources of the zoological and botanical departments of the University by providing means and facilities for special lines of both graduate and undergraduate work and study for those taking major courses in these departments."  
(Forbes : "Biennial Report" p. 311)

What made this station different than most in the nation is that its primary objective was scientific research, and not exclusively education.  The work conducted here would ultimately contribute to the larger study of the effects on plants and animals resulting from periodic flooding of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers (State Science in Illinois The Scientific Surveys, 1850-1978, Robert G. Hayes).  

1876 Stephen A. Forbes initiated studies on the Illinois River.

Stephen A. Forbes

1877 Stephen A. Forbes was named head of the Illinois Laboratory of Natural History.
1894 The University of Illinois established a biological station near Havana, IL.  
         Stephen A. Forbes was named its head.
1895 Charles A. Kofoid was named director of the University of Illinois Biological 
         Experiment Station in Havana.  From this station, Kofoid conducted great deal of 
         investigation of plankton in the river and backwater lakes.

Charles Kofoid (front) and Miles Newberry on Illinois River
bottoms at high water.  Early 1900's

1896 A 60 foot houseboat was constructed to provide a floating research facility.
         This houseboat was towed by a 25-foot steamer, the Illini.
1903 Robert E. Richardson became director of the Havana field station. Richarson and 
         Stephen A. Forbes collaborated to produce The Fishes of Illinois in 1908.
1923 David H. Thompson, assisted mainly by graduate students, conducted research on the Illinois River.
1935 The Anax, a 45-foot cabin boat, was aquired by the Illinois Natural History Survey.
         It was used as a floating laboratory until the mid-1940s.

Shown above is the Anax.  The Anax was used as a floating laboratory 

1940 The first permanent structure was constructed near the site where Stephen A. Forbes 
         first established the biological station in 1894.  This structure was later named 
         Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station.
1949 William C. Starrett becomes director of the later named Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station.

William C. Starrett initiated many studies of great interest to river researchers. 
One such study is the Long Term Electrofishing Survey (LTEF), initiated 
in 1959, which still continues today.

1972 Richard E. Sparks began to lead the River Research Laboratory.  Following William C. Starrett, 
         Richard E. Sparks was the next to emphasize research efforts in aquatics.  Due to his efforts, 
        "The Flood Pulse Concept in River-Floodplain Systems" was widely publicized and 
         has provided a new paradigm by which river ecology and hydrology is viewed.

In 1987, two additional study vessels were aquired in part by the 
Illinois Natural History Survey.   The William C. Starrett and the 
Robert E. Richardson were both named after previous INHS scientists.  
Both boats are used as research vessels to a capacity similar to that 
of the Anax.  Shown above is the William C. Starrett.

1989 Aquatics research staff moved from the Forbes Biolgical Station and a second INHS field 
         station was established in Havana adjacent to Cooks Harbor on the Illinois River to accomodate 
         the growing Long Term Resource Monitoring program and other aquatic research.  This new 
         station was named INHS Illinois River Biological Station.

Since the time of Stephen A. Forbes, river research in Havana 
has grown from a small encampment on the river banks to a 
staff of over fifteen full-time and seasonal hourly staff, and interns.  
Shown above is the Illinois River Biological Station as it is viewed from 
Cooks Harbor at Illinois River Mile 117.0.

Today River research is still being conducted in Havana.  For a listing of current aquatic research 
projects at the INHS Illinois River Biological Station, see our "Current Research"page.


Click here for road maps to the Illinois River Biological Station

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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