with hatching marine fish eggs during 1880 showed that the water
around Newport contained an excessive amount of sediment which
settled on the eggs and materially impaired their development.
Furthermore, the water of this part of Narragansett Bay was
polluted by the drainage of a number of large cities (Newport,
Fall River, Bristol, Providence, and others). The water around
Gloucester was also found unsuitable because of high turbidity
caused by sediment. The conditions at Woods Hole were totally
different. Baird (1884) describes them in the following words:
"the water is exceptionally pure and free from sediment, and
where a strong tide, rushing through the Woods Hole passage,
keeps the water in a state of healthy oxygenation especially
favorable for biological research of every kind and description.
The entire absence of sewage, owing to the remoteness of large
towns, as well as the absence of large rivers tending to reduce
the salinity of the water, constituted a strong argument in
its favor, and the station was finally fixed upon for the purpose
in question." From a biological standpoint the decision was
sound and, as further developments have shown, the laboratories
at Woods Hole have been supplied with sea water of high purity.
At the present time, however, due to the greater population
density, increase in the size of the scientific institutions,
and large numbers of pleasure boats visiting the harbor during
the summer months, the water has become polluted to such an
extent that the taking of shellfish from Woods Hole Harbor is
no longer permitted by sanitary regulations and swimming in
Great Harbor is discouraged.
Another biologically important characteristic of Woods Hole
water mentioned by Baird remains unchanged. Due to the absence
of large fresh-water streams, the salt concentration of Woods
Hole sea water is nearly constant throughout the year and does
not vary with the alternate changes of the tides. There are
very few locations along the eastern coast of the United States
and in the Gulf of Mexico where such a stability in the salinity
of water can be found. As Baird visualized it many years ago,
this constitutes a great advantage for "biological research
of every kind and description."
The decision regarding the character of the marine laboratory
to be established at Woods Hole was influenced by the success
of the first laboratory of this type organized in 1870-74 by
Anton Dohrn in Naples, Italy. The latter laboratory, which up
to the present day remains a mecca for biologists working with
marine material, was established as a private enterprise, financed
primarily through subscriptions by different European colleges
and universities for the use of laboratory facilities. Baird
thought that the first permanent marine laboratory in the United
States should also include a school of marine biology. His plans
had to be modified to conform with the policies of Congress.
He realized great difficulties in obtaining Congressional appropriation
for the purchase of land for the laboratory and entered into
negotiations with the owners of most desirable tracts of land
on the shore of Great Harbor in Woods Hole. At the same time
he persuaded a number of influential and wealthy persons to
give financial support to his project. Joseph S. Fay, a leading
citizen of Woods Hole (fig. 14) donated three acres of land
along North Street. The tract comprised a narrow strip between
the shores of Great Harbor and North Street (present Bar Neck
Road); it extended beyond the end of North Street in a northwesterly
direction for about 425 feet along the breakwater on the northern
shore of Buzzards Bay and ended at the boundary line of the
Pacific Guano Company. Two other parcels of land not contingent
with Fay's property, one along Water Street (known also as County
Road) of 0.9 acres in area, and the larger piece in 1.5 acres
along the east shore of Great Harbor were acquired by purchase
with the money contributed by various parties. The annual report
of the Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries for 1883, lists the
following parties who contributed the money:
Old Colony Railroad Company $2,500
John M. Forbes 1,000
Alexander Agassiz 500
Johns Hopkins University 1,000
Princeton University 1,000
Williams College 500
Isaiah Spindel and Company 500
Mrs. Robert L. Stuart 250
The subscribed funds and the land donated by Fay were available
to the Fish commission only in the event of an appropriation
by the U.S. Government for necessary improvements. The titles
of the tracts of land to be conveyed to the U.S. Government
were investigated by the U.S. District Attorney for Massachusetts
and pronounced valid. Full jurisdiction over the land in question
was ceded by the State of Massachusetts on March 30, 1882. The
value of the property which the U.S. Fish Commission received
as a gift from private citizens and organizations was estimated
not less than $15,000.
To facilitate the transaction, the deed to Fay's land in consideration
of one dollar and the funds contributed by others were turned
over to Charles F. Choate and J. Malclom Forbes as Trustees.
They purchased the two smaller parcels from individual owners
and, on April 20, 1883, conveyed all the acquired property,
including the deed to Fay's land, to the United States Government.
To obtain the contributions, Baird offered the universities
continuous use of research tables in the proposed laboratory.
In a letter of September 3, 1881, to Forbes, Baird wrote as
follows: ". . . .I have written to Alexander Agassiz (fig. 15)
asking him if he would like to join in the enterprise and promising
him a perpetual right to a table in the laboratory and the facilities
of the station to be utilized by anyone he may designate. This
is the system adopted at the Naples Aquarium, where establishment
by this means has been successfully maintained."
Baird (1885, p. LIV) states: "The colleges in question and Mr.
Agassiz made their contributions with the understanding that,
as far as possible, they were each to be allowed to send one
specialist to the station for the purpose of carrying on scientific
research." This promise was continued to be honored by his successors.
On one occasion, in May, 1895, Commissioner McDonald denied
the privilege and stated "this agreement, as a matter of contract,
is not authorized by law; as a matter of courtesy, it has been
and will be carried out unless something intervenes to make
it impossible." (Letter on file at the Bureau of Commercial
Fisheries Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.) Conklin (1944)
writes that "when, on one occasion, this privilege was cancelled
by a Commissioner of Fisheries, Mr. Agassiz fought the order
with characteristic vigor, and it was rescinded."