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



Marker Text:

     Denison Olmsted was employed in the 1820s to make the first state geological survey. Olmsted’s specimens, along with those of Elisha Mitchell, may have been part of an informal museum in the original Capitol building. In 1851 the legislature called for a new geological and agricultural survey, one headed by state geologist Ebenezer Emmons. In his office at the Capitol, Emmons maintained the Cabinet of Minerals, a collection raided by Sherman’s troops in 1865. In 1877 the legislature created the Department of Agriculture, which established an agricultural museum. L. L. Polk was the first Commissioner of Agriculture. In 1879 legislators placed the geological survey under the Department. By 1880 the agricultural museum, located in the Briggs building on Fayetteville Street, had welcomed visitors from across state and nation.

     In 1884 the Department hired H. H. Brimley (1861-1946) to create an exhibit on waterfowl and fishes for the State Exposition. Brimley had emigrated from England to North Carolina, where he and his brother Clement opened a taxidermy shop in Raleigh, gaining a reputation as among the leading naturalists in the South. After the 1884 State Exposition, the Department of Agriculture had exhibits that were too valuable to discard. In 1895 Brimley was hired as the museum’s curator, a title that was changed to director (the museum’s first) in 1928. In 1937 when he became curator of zoology, a position he held until his death.

     Once simply the State Museum and long the North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, the institution since 1986 has been the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, a name change effected “to reflect more accurately its mission--to increase the public’s appreciation of the natural environment of the state and the biodiversity of the surrounding area.” In 1993 the legislature transferred the museum from Agriculture to what is today the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In 1994, legislators appropriated money for a new building attached to the old museum. The new facility, completed at a cost of $70.5 million, opened in April 2000.

Session Laws of North Carolina, 1851, 1877, 1879, 1887, and 1901
Margaret Martin, A Long Look at Nature: The North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences (2001)
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences website:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 227-228—sketches of Brimley brothers by Marcus B. Simpson Jr.
Guide to Research Materials in the North Carolina State Archives: State Agency Records (1995)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources