Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Borden Institute


Louisville, Kentucky is located across the Ohio River from Clark County, Indiana. Clark County is partial home to the Falls of the Ohio State Park and its world famous fossils. The county also produced a very generous intellectual who amassed a large fossil collection in the 1800s. His name was William W. Borden (1823-1906).

Growing up in rural southern Indiana farming community, William became interested in fossils in 1862 after Dr. Reid of Salem showed him some crinoid stems and explained how they came about as fossils. This exchange sparked his lifelong study of fossils. His knowledge of geology allowed him to assist Official Geologist of the State, Professor Cox, in 1870s survey some southern Indiana counties. Using this knowledge, he became a member of a mining firm of Borden, Tabor, & Company and a made a large fortune mining in Colorado. One of his partners in this operation was Marshall Field of Chicago who the famous museum there is named after. He sold his mining interests in 1879 and returned to Indiana to use his wealth to help educate those in the local community.

He founded The Borden Institute in 1884 to educate the children of the farm community he grew up in called New Providence (later renamed in honor of him to Borden). Professor Borden also created The Borden Museum. It housed silver and minerals acquired from mines in Leadville, Colorado in 1878 & 1879 where he made his fortune. He bought the Knapp Silurian & Devonian collection of fossils in 1886. It was a collection built up over 30 years by Dr. Knapp of corals & crinoids found in Beargrass Creek, Kentucky and Falls of the Ohio.
Professor Borden bought the Dr. S. H. Harrod (Canton, Indiana) fossil collection in 1887. It contained crinoids of the St. Louis Formation found near Spurgeon's and Paynter's Hills. Two years later he acquired fossils from Big Bone Lick Kentucky contained in Dr. C. C. Graham collection.

The crinoid collection increased in size to over 3000 specimens in 1901 with the purchase of the G.K. Greene collection. It appears Greene named a number of specimens after Borden as documented in his 1904 book.

The picture and some of the material used for this posting was taken from Baird's History of Clark County, Indiana (1909) published by B.F. Bowen, Indianapolis, Indiana.

William Wallace Borden Monument
Fairview Cemetery
New Albany, Indiana

After William Wallace Borden died in 1906, the Borden Institute was closed and in 1983 the building was razed after being declared a fire hazard. The museum [Mrs. George W. Robb] donated the fossil collection to the Field Museum in Chicago in 1923. It was estimated to be a 30,000 piece specimen collection [refer to Field Museum of Natural History Publication 217 Annual Report of the Directors to the Board of Trustees for the Year 1923]. Here is a passage from that report, "Although a substantial Museum building had been erected in Borden to house the collection, Mrs. Robb felt that its importance justified placing it in a larger institution where its intrinsic value could be appreciated by greater numbers. The collection is especially noteworthy for the beauty and perfection of its crinoids and for the extreme care with which the specimens have been assembled."

Amazingly, Borden, Indiana with its current population of around 800 inhabitants once housed one of the most impressive fossil collections in the midwestern United States.


It appears that a local horn coral, named after Professor Borden, is of the family Cyathopsidae, Bordenia knappi (Hall). It is from the Middle Devonian Period and found in Speed Limestone (Clark County, Indiana) and northern Kentucky. According to Stumm's book Silurian and Devonian Corals of the Falls of the Ohio, pp. 46-47, "Mr. Guy Campbell who has studied the Falls of the Ohio region for many years has informed the author that B. knappi, Hadrophyllum orbignyi, and an undescribed species of Aulopora are the only corals in the Speeds Limestone." Fossil image derived from Plate 31, images 4, 9, & 11 in Contribution to Indiana Palaeontology. Vol. 1. Part I to XX. by George K. Greene, February 1898 to September 1904, published Ewing & Zeller, New Albany, Indiana is displayed above.

See one of the horn coral pictured at the Indiana Memory Collection website from the Falls of the Ohio State Park collection.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reviewing your article. I am a lifelong Borden, Indiana resident and I enjoy reading articles about our notable philanthropist Professor Wm. W. Borden. Thank you!
James G. Martin

Kentuckiana Mike said...

Thanks.
I am glad to help highlight some of Clark County, Indiana's history on the Internet!

Anonymous said...

I maintain the Borden, Indiana Wikipedia page and would like to use your images from this blog on our page. Would that be okay? I have already referenced your blog in the Further Readings section of the Wikipedia page.

Thanks again,
James G. Martin

Kentuckiana Mike said...

Yes, you can use the images on the Wikipedia page.