The text for these captions originally appeared in “The Natural World,” a 2008 article in LSA Magazine by James Tobin. Images are all courtesy of the Biological Station. 

Professor Jacob Reighard, in his time the world’s leading authority on fish of the Great Lakes, founded the University of Michigan Biological Station in 1909. After the Regents approved his plan for the field station at the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, he had just two weeks and $2,000 to ready an old log barn and purchase tents and supplies for its first crew of 14 women and 4 men.

The land acquired by the University had been ravaged by logging, and the barren area was originally slated as a place for engineering students to learn surveying. Early on, the copious underbrush and felled trees served as fuel for recurring wildfires.

The Biological Station, which celebrated its centennial in 2009, has housed more than 10,000 students over the past century. Before cabins were constructed, the original camp consisted of tents that dotted Douglas Lake, offering a scenic view of Grapevine Point.

Permanent cabins and other buildings were erected not long after the Biological Station opened, and offered “modern” conveniences such as a mess hall, a social hall and library, and laboratories. From its inception, the Station had an equal or greater ratio of women to men, and the sex-segregated housing settlements jokingly became known as “Ladyville” and “Manville.”

Students at the Biological Station started classes at 7:30 A.M. and worked until 4:00 P.M., when they broke for dinner. This was followed by social activities in the evening, like swimming in Douglas Lake, and culminated with a nightly beach campfire, complete with singing.

Over the years, the once-deforested land began its renewal, with trees replacing empty clearings and displaced animals such as black bears, bobcats, deer, and porcupines returning to their original habitats. The Biological Station continued to grow in popularity because it offered students of ecology a unique, firsthand opportunity to observe a habitat in recovery from an environmental trauma.

Although Reighard had intended the Biological Station as mainly a place for teaching, research became an integral part of the site’s activity. “We have here research workers of all kinds, from the student who is just beginning his first problem in fear…to the chronic investigator whose mind is one immense question mark,” botanist Henry Gleason wrote.

Among the Biological Station’s alumni is Nobel Prize winner Thomas Weller, who credits Professor Lyell Thomas, pictured here, with inspiring his scientific career. (Left to right) Frank Blanchard, Carl LaRue, Lyell Thomas, Paul Welch, John Ehlers, Frank Eggleton, Frank Gates, George LaRue, Herbert Hungerford, Charles Creaser, William Cort, Alfred Stockard, and George Nichols, circa 1936.

Over the years, the Biological Station property has experienced continuous change in flora and fauna, as well as in its chemical and atmospheric composition. Meanwhile, its popularity amongst students, faculty, and researchers has been unwavering.

UMBS is widely considered one of the most prominent field stations in the country. Students and researchers alike continue to flock there to uncover answers to important modern problems, like climate change. “What we can do at the Biological Station is create intensive learning situations where students can work at the interface of these areas of science,” says current Director Knute Nadelhoffer.