Historical Timeline of the Maine Geological Survey

History of the Maine Geological Survey


By Woodrow B. Thompson

From Socolow, Arthur A., 1988, The state geological surveys: A history: American Association of State Geologist, 499 p.


Tracing the history of the Maine Geological Survey has proved to be a more complex task than expected. Much is known about recent years, and the Surveys of the 1800's are well documented. However, events of the early 1900's had to be reconstructed from obscure, out-of-print government reports. Sometimes a single sentence in a legislative journal, or a line in a budget sheet, may be the only public record that the State of Maine employed a geologist during a certain year. The Maine Geological Survey as we know it, with a full-time staff and field program, has existed only since the 1940's. In previous years the State hired just one or two geologists at a time. However, these individuals contributed to the growth of earth science research in Maine and thus are included in the following history.


Mineral resources were important to the early settlers of Maine, who exploited rock quarries, ore minerals, and clay deposits. The legislature soon recognized the significance of these resources in Maine's economy and, in 1836, authorized the first geological survey of the state. The Board of Internal Improvements contracted with Charles T. Jackson, a prominent physician and naturalist from Boston, to conduct the survey.

Limitations of funding, short field seasons, and modes of transportation restricted Jackson's field work to coastal areas and a few river and overland routes. He carried out his investigations between 1836 and 1838 and published the results in a series of three annual reports. Jackson's First Report on the Geology of the State of Maine (Jackson, 1837) was accompanied by a separate atlas of plates. This atlas is now a scarce collector's item, more in demand for its art work than geologic content. Jackson is said to have compiled a single copy of a bedrock map of Maine encompassing all of his work. It was discovered in a Boston bookstore in the 1870's, but its present location is unknown (Trefethen, 1947).

Jackson was also commissioned in 1836 to conduct a geological survey of the public lands in northern Maine, which were jointly owned by Maine and Massachusetts. The principal motive for these expeditions apparently was to gather information on the geography and natural resources near the Maine-Canada border, the location of which was being disputed with England. Reports on this work were published in 1837 and 1838.

Merrill (1924) criticized Jackson's reports as merely "recording a large number of disconnected observations," but conceded that he faced difficult logistical problems in quickly covering such a large remote area with extensive soil and forest cover. Jackson's surveys helped guide future geological work in the state, and the references to mineral occurrences in his reports probably encouraged prospecting and development of these deposits.

In 1861, the Maine legislature authorized a "Scientific Survey" to be carried out for the Board of Agriculture. Ezekiel Holmes, a naturalist from Winthrop, and Charles H. Hitchcock, professor of geology at Amherst College, were appointed to direct this survey. It comprised a variety of natural history investigations, but chiefly Hitchcock's geological studies. The findings of Hitchcock and other members of the Scientific Survey were included in the Sixth and Seventh Annual Reports of the Maine Board of Agriculture, published in 1861 and 1862.

Hitchcock accomplished an impressive amount of work during his 2 years as State Geologist. His reports described the bedrock and surficial geology of Maine, including mineral resources. According to Toppan (1932), one of the most important contributions was the delineation of Devonian strata. There is also much information on features related to glaciation, although the glacial theory was relatively new in the early 1860's. Hitchcock compiled the first widely circulated map of the bedrock geology of the state, which is contained in several editions of Colby's Atlas of Maine beginning in 1885.


Following the Hitchcock survey, Maine did not have a State Geologist or geological survey for the remainder of the 19th century. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) carried out a few projects in the state, including investigations by Nathaniel S. Shaler in coastal areas and George H. Stone's pioneering work on Maine's glacial deposits. Around the turn of the century the Maine legislature authorized three types of geologic and topographic projects: river basin studies, topographic mapping, and minor work on bedrock geology. The evolution of cooperative state-federal programs during the early 1900's is a little-known chapter of the Maine Geological Survey's history. The developments summarized below were reconstructed from records in the State Archives.

In 1899, the legislature created the Topographic Survey Commission to administer a cooperative state-federal topographic mapping program. Legislation passed in 1901 enlarged the scope of this commission by giving them supervisory power over both topographic and geologic work. Their report for 1901-02 indicated that the USGS had already completed several 15- minute quadrangle maps (which sold for only 5 cents each!), established a number of stream gauging stations, and begun geologic studies in eastern Maine. The first mention of a State Geologist appeared in the commission's 1903-04 report, which stated that Leslie A. Lee was both Chairman of the Commission and State Geologist. (Lee was a professor of geology and biology at Bowdoin College.) However, the actual geologic work was done entirely by the USGS, including quadrangle reports and economic studies by George 0. Smith, Edson S. Bastin, and others.

The name of the Topographic Survey Commission was changed to the "State Survey Commission" in 1905, in recognition of its broadened responsibilities. Lee continued as State Geologist until his death in 1908, when he was succeeded by Franklin C. Robinson (professor of chemistry and mineralogy at Bowdoin College). In 1909, the legislature created the State Water Storage Commission, whose duties included working with the State Survey Commission and USGS in topographic mapping "in so far as it related to the collection of data bearing on the water powers and water storage reservoirs of the state" (P.L. 1909, Chap. 212). Robinson died in 1910, and later that year C. Vey Holman was appointed as State Geologist and Commission Chairman.

The State Survey Commission was abolished in 1911, its duties being transferred to the Water Storage Commission. This agency was chaired by the Governor, but hydrographic work was supervised by Cyrus C. Babb, who was appointed USGS District Engineer for Maine. Babb published annual reports on Water Storage Commission activities for the years 1910-13, including the first bibliography of Maine geology (Babb, 1913). Topographic and geologic mapping by the USGS is thought to have continued under Babb's direction, but there is no record of a State Geologist during this period.

In 1913, the state dissolved the Water Storage Commission and transferred its duties to the new Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The PUC's first annual report (for 1915) described the durable state-federal topographic mapping co-op, which somehow survived being bounced from one agency to another since 1899. The report also noted that the USGS had paid for all geological work in Maine during 1913- 15, except for an investigation of peat deposits.

The PUC awakened Maine's interest in conducting its own mineral resource inventory. Their report for 1916 listed Freeman F. Burr as geologist under the engineering staff. Burr presented an account of the work on peat resources, which he had begun in 1914 under prior authorization from Governor Haines and the Water Storage Commission. Burr's report also described feldspar deposits and other mineral occurrences that the PUC had directed him to study in 1916. His remark that he covered "approximately 2,000 miles by train, 600 miles by automobile, and 250 miles on foot" gives some idea of the effort involved in this study (Burr, 1917).

Burr was again listed as staff geologist in the PUC report for 1917 but was not included in the 1918 roster. The Commission probably employed him in 1918, because in that year the Executive Council granted the PUC permission to send "Mr. F. F. Burr, its Geologist" to a conference with the USGS and other state geologists in Washington, D.C. The PUC was deeply involved with railroads and other modes of transportation, regulating utilities, and coping with all sorts of litigation. Their report for 1919 said that all work related to water resources and topography had been turned over to the newly created Maine Water Power Commission.

The Water Power Commission's first annual report, for 1919-20, contained brief sections on topography and geology, in addition to the river basin studies that were a high priority during the expansion of hydroelectric power. Freeman Burr reappeared as the Commission's geologist, and the legislation creating the Commission directed it to cooperate with the USGS in hydrographic and geological surveys, as well as topographic mapping. The report noted that the State's appropriation for continuing the mapping co-op was so small ($5,000 per year) that 15-minute quadrangle coverage of Maine would not be completed until the year 2005!

A summary of Burr's investigations of economic rocks and minerals, and peat as a potential fuel source, was included in the Water Power Commission's first report. Burr argued in favor of establishing a State Geologist position in order to collect and communicate information on mineral resources, and to publish "educational matter." However, his appeal failed to yield immediate results. The Commission's second report (for 1921-22) no longer listed Burr on the staff roster. It remarked that a State Geologist had not been hired, and even the USGS had done no work in Maine during the past 2 years. The Water Power Commission itself was abolished in 1925. The legislature restored to the PUC the authority to continue the topographic mapping co-op, and the State Geologist position was still in limbo.

In 1929, the Governor appointed Lucius H. Merrill to be State Geologist for 2 years. Merrill was a professor of biochemistry at the University of Maine in Orono for many years prior to becoming State Geologist. He and his assistant, Edward H. Perkins of Colby College, published the First Annual Report on the geology of Maine (Merrill and Perkins, 1930). This was the first of the modern series of State Geologist reports. It described several investigations of Maine's bedrock and surficial geology, including such diverse topics as earthquakes and glaciomarine clays.

Joseph C. Twinem followed Merrill as State Geologist from 1931 to 1932 (Toppan, 1932). He was an instructor in the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Maine. Twinem's report, like Merrill's, comprised a variety of studies. It also contained an updated bibliography of Maine geology (Twinem, 1932). Twinem was listed as State Geologist on the Preliminary Geologic Map of Maine, which was compiled by Arthur Keith and published in 1933. This was the first bedrock map of the state since the one by Hitchcock. Keith was described on the map as "Assistant State Geologist of Maine, 1932, and Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey." The compilation was based on his work for the USGS during 1925-31 and information from other state and federal sources.

The record of State-sponsored geologic work during the next decade is very fragmentary. Trefethen (1947) said that Freeman Burr was State Geologist from 1932 to 1942. However, legislative records show that a deficit in state revenues forced the State Geologist's salary to be suspended for 2 years effective March 31, 1933, and then suspended for another 2 years beginning March 30, 1935. During at least part of this hiatus, the resilient Burr was associated with the Maine State Planning Board. (This agency was absorbed into the Maine Development Commission in 1937.) A publication dated 1934 indicated that Burr was "assistant in charge of construction" for the Planning Board (Burr, 1934). The Board's organizational chart showed a Conservation Division encompassing wildlife, forestry, and geology. Burr coauthored a bulletin on the mineralogy of Maine that was published by the Planning Board in early 1936 (Burr and Weed, 1936), and maps bearing his name in this bulletin are dated as early as August 1934.

Some of the slack in the mid-1930's was taken up by the Maine Technology Experiment Station at the University of Maine. This organization conducted an extensive survey of gravel deposits and their suitability for road construction. As part of the road materials survey, E. H. Perkins prepared a bulletin on the glacial geology of Maine, together with the first surficial geologic map of the state. Both of these products were published in 1935. Perkins had been an Assistant State Geologist under Merrill and Twinem. Although his reconnaissance map was very generalized, it provided a useful overview of Maine's spectacular esker systems.

Freeman Burr was finally appointed to be official State Geologist in April 1937 and reappointed in March 1940. The duration of these two appointments is not known, and Burr apparently did not publish anything during this period. Legislative records indicate that he was salaried at least through June 1939, and Trefethen (1947) said that he retired from the position in 1942.


Joseph M. Trefethen held the post of State Geologist from 1942 until 1956. He was a professor of geology at the University of Maine and was headquartered at the campus in Orono. In 1943, his position was made part of the Maine Development Commission then in 1955 it was incorporated into the new Department of Development of Industry and Commerce. By 1945 Trefethen had assembled a staff of eight persons. From this time onward the group was known as the "Maine Geological Survey" (MGS), although the name remained unofficial for over two decades.

During his tenure as State Geologist, Trefethen greatly increased the number and variety of geological investigations in Maine, including cooperative projects with the USGS. The results were published in annual reports and a new MGS bulletin series. There were major studies of granite pegmatites and metallic mineral resources, and a renewed emphasis on commodities such as limestone, peat, and clay deposits. At first this activity was spurred by the demand for strategic minerals during World War II, but Trefethen promoted the benefits of such work to the post-war economy. He also initiated an in-depth study of the relationship of Maine's coastal geology to clam production. This cooperative effort with the Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries was among the first of its type in the country (Trefethen, 1951).

John R. Rand became State Geologist in 1956 and held the position until 1959. In 1957, the name of the Department of Development of Industry and Commerce was changed to simply "Department of Economic Development" including the Division of Geological Survey. This was the first legislative approval of a distinct geological agency in Maine state government. Rand hired geologists from institutions such as Harvard and MIT to produce bedrock maps based on their summer field work in Maine. He thus established a mutually beneficial connection between the MGS and academia that persists to the present day as the foundation of the Survey's geologic mappmg program.

Rand also continued the investigation of Maine's mineral resources. He published a series of maps and reports locating granite quarries and mineral deposits in Maine. To further publicize the state's resources, sets of economic rocks and minerals were distributed to schools.

Robert G. Doyle succeeded Rand as State Geologist in 1959. During his 20 years in office, Doyle continued the Survey's work on mineral resources, including geophysical studies as well as basic geologic mapping. Interest in the state's mining potential was fueled by detailed MGS reports (Special Economic Studies Series) on ore deposits in eastern Maine, and zinc-copper mines were opened at Brooksville in 1968 and Blue Hill in 1972. The Survey's bedrock mapping program thrived during the 1960's and 1970's with both state and federal geologists working in Maine. In 1967, the Survey published a new 1:500,000-scale bedrock map of the state, the chief compilers of which were Doyle and Arthur M. Hussey, II.

The Maine Geological Survey experienced major changes in structure and program orientation during Doyle's tenure as State Geologist. Some of these changes resulted from reorganization of State agencies. In 1969, the Division of Geological Survey became the "Division of Science, Technology, and Mineral Resources," including both a State Geologist and Assistant State Geologist. The legislature transferred this division from the Department of Economic Development to the Forestry Department in 1971 and then to the Bureau of Geology in the new Department of Conservation in 1973. Finally, the Bureau of Geology officially became the Maine Geological Survey in 1977.

MGS programs began to diversify during the 1970's in response to development pressures in southern Maine, increased environmental concerns, and the tremendous need for information on the state's coastal and surficial geology. The Survey commenced reconnaissance-level surficial quadrangle mapping and an air-photo inventory of coastal geology. Much of this work was done with limited project funds, necessitating quick coverage of large areas.

In 1979, Walter A. Anderson (who had been Doyle's assistant) was appointed State Geologist. The MGS has greatly expanded through the 1980's, with the establishment of divisions for bedrock and surficial geology, cartography and information services, hydrogeology, and marine geology. Anderson's development of the Survey staff has enabled the MGS to broaden its services to include many activities besides geologic mapping. Much of the Survey's work is oriented toward today's pressing land-use issues, including radioactive waste disposal, groundwater protection, and coastal management. However, basic geologic mapping and data collection are still essential sources of information for decisions in these matters.

The Maine Geological Survey maintains close research ties with the USGS (particularly the Water Resources Division in Augusta), The University of Maine system, and other State agencies such as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Experience has shown that a coordinated multidisciplinary approach, involving government and university workers with knowledge of mutually related fields, is the best means of tackling complex geologic problems. Funding from various federal sources has been obtained for many projects in recent years, including peat resource inventory, landslide studies, investigations of neotectonics and sea-level changes, and offshore marine research. Presently, the Survey is developing a computerized geographic information system (GIS) to spatially handle the growing amount of earth science data.

In 1985, the MGS published two new geologic maps of the state: an updated bedrock map, edited by P. H. Osberg, A. M. Hussey, II, and G. M. Boone; and the first surficial geologic map of the state in 50 years, edited by W. B. Thompson and H. W. Borns, Jr. Detailed bedrock and surficial quadrangle mapping are continuing, because the reconnaissance nature of much earlier work is inadequate to meet current planning needs or provide a full understanding of Maine's geologic history. Sand and gravel aquifers have received much attention during the last decade, with detailed aquifer mapping supplemented by acquisition of subsurface data from well drillers, test borings, and seismic profiles. A similar effort is needed along the coast to generate accurate, large-scale geologic maps for planning purposes.

Along with several other State Geological Surveys, the MGS is observing its sesquicentennial during 1987-89. The occasion is being marked by publication of bulletins containing articles on recent geologic research in Maine. These papers will provide an overview of many different aspects of Maine geology and help define research priorities for years to come.


Considering the rapid development and population growth in Maine, the need for geologic data will remain strong. The Maine Geological Survey plans to continue its basic mapping program, which will be facilitated by 1:24,000-scale topographic maps that are newly available for a large percentage of the state. In the field of hydrogeology, much remains to be learned about Maine's bedrock aquifers, which provide water for most rural homes. The Survey's Marine Geology Division is placing a high priority on exploration of the offshore zone, where direct observation, remote sensing, and sediment sampling are providing new data on the character and resource potential of the sea floor.

Technical assistance to its varied clientele is expected to remain a very important function of the MGS. This service will be enhanced by the Survey's recent affiliation with the National Cartographic Information Center. However, an enlarged in-house cartographic and GIS capability are deemed crucial to making new geologic maps and reports available to the public in the "Information Age." A parallel effort is underway to generate educational publications that will be useful to teachers, tourists, and others interested in the geologic history and resources of Maine.


Babb, C. C., 1913, Bibliography of Maine geology, in Third annual report, Maine State Water Storage Commission: Waterville, Maine, Sentinel Publishing Co., p. 10, 185- 242.

Burr, F. F., 1917, Report of Freeman F. Burr,geologist, in Second annual report of the Public Utilities Commission, State of Maine, for the year ending October 31, 1916 (Topography, Geology, and Water Resources Department): Waterville, Maine, Sentinel Publishing Co., p. 17-103.

Burr, F. F.,1934 Gold in Maine: Maine Minerals, v: l, no. 2, p. 22, 27.

Burr, F. F., and Weed, G. W., 1936, Mineralogy of Maine (revised by J. B. Hanley): Augusta, Maine, Maine State Planning Board, Bulletin No. 6,59p.

Colby's Atlas of the State of Maine-- 1885: Houlton, Maine, Colby and Stuart.

Jackson, C. T., 1837, First report on the geology of the State of Maine: Augusta, Maine, Smith and Robinson (printers to the State), 127 p.

Merrill, G. P., 1906, Contributions to the history of American geology: Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, Report No. 135 in Report of the National Museum for 1904, p. 189-734.

Merrill, G. P.,1924, The first one hundred years of American geology: New Haven, Yale University Press, 773 p.

Merrill, L. H., and Perkins, E. H., 1930, First annual report on the geology of the State of Maine: Augusta, Maine, 87p.

Toppan, F. W., 1932, The geology of Maine: Union College, Schenectady, New York, M.S. thesis, 141 p.

Trefethen, J. M., 1947, Report of the State Geologist, 1945-1946: Augusta, Maine, Maine Development Commission, 97 p.

Trefethen, J. M., 1951, Report of the State Geologist, 1949-1950: Augusta, Mame, Maine Development Commission, 160p.

Twinem, J. C., 1932, Bibliography and index of Maine geology from 1836 to 1930, in State Geologist's report on the geology of Maine: Augusta, Maine, p. 17-85.


Since Thompson's article was published in 1998, the Survey has continued to expand its geologic mapping efforts, and coastal and hydrogeologic scientific programs making it "the primary source of information on the geologic framework of the State, its groundwater resources, and geologic hazards" (Marvinney, 2019). The long history of cooperation between MGS, USGS and academia in Maine continues to yield new information that is available to address the earth science needs of the citizens of Maine. Modern software and databases now manage the data created by these programs. These modern tools are supporting the Survey's efforts to preserve earlier work in digital, searchable formats. Many new, web-based technologies are being used to provide the Survey's current work and historical collections to the public and partner organziations.

Many of the individuals who helped cement the reputation of the Survey as a highly respected, professional organization through the 1970's and 1980's have, or soon will be, retired. This has opened the door for the second generation of modern, professional earth scientists to take the reins and start to guide the Survey into the future.


Marvinney, Robert G., 2019, Overview of Current Maine Geological Survey Activities and Programs: Maine Geological Survey, Circular 19-1, 30 p.

Last updated on September 17, 2019