Saturday, July 1, 2023

George Greene - New Albany Indiana Paleontologist

Photoshop enhanced and colored from copy of photograph in Miss Emma Carleton scrapbook no. 1, page 11. Date unknown but probably early 1900s. Original plate should be at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library archives

Early Life

George Kennard Greene was born November 18, 1833 in Columbus, Indiana to Captain George Greene (1802-1877) and Eunice R. Parker Greene (1808-1893).  His parents lived in Hancock County, Kentucky and George K. went to public schools there. He was also tutored in Latin and science privately. As a boy, his family was visited by the German paleontologist and showman/entrepreneur Albrecht C. Koch (1804-1867) who was collecting fossil specimens for a French college. Probably around 1847, he joined Mr. Koch on his geological journeys where he learned more about becoming a geologist and fossil dealer. 

Koch was famous for finding the Missouri Leviathan (a mis-assembled mastodon) that he excavated in 1840 and later sold to the Museum of Natural History in London England for $2,000 plus a $1,000 a year for as long as he was alive. Read its interesting story at the museum web site. Later in 1845, he found a whale like creature now known as a Basilosaurus in Alabama. The specimen was sold to a museum in Prussia in 1848. Whether George Greene helped him with this last sale, it is not documented.

Greene moved to Hardinsburg, Kentucky and married Mary Jane Lewis in 1859. They had maybe 6 children including Newton A. "Gus" Greene (1866-1938), who would later become mayor of New Albany. In 1870, they moved to Jeffersonville, Indiana to be closer to the Falls of the Ohio and it's fossil beds where he collected his specimens to sell. He made another move in 1878 to New Albany where he setup his fossil shop. Indiana University employed him to arrange Dr. Dale Owen's (1807-1860) fossil collection. Afterwards, he worked for five years as Assistant State Geologist and made several state geological surveys. His wife died in 1882. In 1885, he became one of the founding members of the Indiana Academy of Sciences. 

 Scientific Work

In 1886, he financially sponsored and provided the Falls of the Ohio fossil specimens for E.O. Ulrich (1857-1944) to publish Contributions to American Palaeontology. In it Ulrich names a brachiopod Rhynchonella greeniana (Ulrich, 1886) after Greene. Ulrich makes a misstep in naming a new foraminifera genus Moellerina and species M. greenei as it later turns out the fossil is a plant charophyte. The name is still used though and the type specimen is at the Smithsonian catalog number P42079. Elizabeth McGowan married him on May 28, 1894. 

Rhynchonella greeniana  (Ulrich,1886) brachiopod fossil named in honor of George Greene

Moellerina greenei (Ulrich, 1886) charophyte algae fossil named for George K. Greene

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Specimen Catalog Number:  USNM P 42079 Specimen GUID: Photographer Curt Breckenridge. Specimens housed in the collections of the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Holotype of Moellerina greenei (Ulrich, 1886) named for George K. Greene who found in Devonian Period layer of Jeffersonville Limestone at Falls of the Ohio Clark County, Indiana, USA

From February 1898 till September 1904 he published Contribution to Indiana Palaeontology Volume I Part I to XX. University of Michigan paleontologist and coral fossil expert Erwin C. Stumm noted in 1964 that Greene "described 164 species of rugose and tabulate corals"... from the Falls of the Ohio but many were already described previously. Non-coral fossils were described by R. R. Rowley (1854-1935) of Louisiana, Missouri. Having another researcher allowed him to publish new fossil names where the species was named after him. Specifically a horn coral Blothrophyllum greenei (Rowley, 1904), a crinoid Dolatocrinus greenei (Rowley, 1904), and a blastoid Nucleocrinus greenei (Rowley, 1904).

Dolatocrinus greenei (Rowley, 1904?) Crinoid Calyx Fossil

Nucleocrinus greenei (Rowley, 1904?) Blastoid Fossil


His second wife died in 1910. Below is his business card of the different types of historical items he dealt with.

On September 17, 1911, The Courier-Journal published an almost full page article about George Greene entitled "Fossils Found Revert to Age When Louisville Was At the Equator". He reveals that he has sold fossils to American Museum of Natural History, British Museum of Natural History, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, Boston Society of Natural History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Borden Institute of Indiana. He considered some of his best finds a 150 pound coral found in the mud of Silver Creek which he sold to William Borden for $50 and an over 100 arm crinoid calyx he sold him for $100. "This specimen is considered the finest ever found, both for beauty and size. It was five and one-half inches high and three inches in diameter. It had 152 arms."

He told the journalist that he was content living as a recluse in his two room home next door to his son, the mayor. "Despite his 76 years, he is hale and hearty. He eats only the simplest foods, prepared by his own hands. He does not drink, chew or smoke, and never was seriously sick in his life."

Photoshop enhanced and colored from copy of photograph in Miss Emma Carleton scrapbook no. 1, page 11. Date unknown but probably early 1900s. Original plate should be at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library archives


In September of 1916, Greene was admitted into the Southeastern Hospital for the Insane (aka "Cragmont" now known as Madison State Hospital). George Greene died of a cerebral embolism at approximately 1 A.M. on August 19, 1917.  The Indiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death 25540 listed his occupation as geologist. He was buried at Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Indiana.


His son, Newton sold his father's collection consisting of 1500 boxes, 100 cabinet drawers, 3 show cases, 5 bins, 65 cigar boxes, 1 trunk of Indian relics, 3 cabinets and 20 bushels of fine specimens for $5,500 to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. When Dr. C.A. Reed, Assistant Curator at AMNH shipped it off to the New York, it weighed 23,000 lbs. and estimated to consist of 400,000+ specimens. They never curated it except for the type specimens. Dr. Reed also bought the William J. McConathy (1841-1918) collection for $2,300 consisting of 7,000+ coral specimens that were shipped with the Greene collection.  In 1960, the Greene collection was donated to the U.S. National Museum. As of this writing in 2023, their database shows 23 specimens with the species name of greenei.

The Sources:

Greene Family file, Indiana Room, New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, 180 West Spring Street, New Albany, Indiana 47150

In the early 1980s, Dr. N. Gary Lane (1930-2006) in the Department of Geology at Indiana University of Bloomington started research Professor George K. Greene. He published his article in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science Volume 97 (1987) entitled "George K. Greene: An Early Indiana Fossil Collector".

Dr. Lane consulted with librarian Ruth Ann Kramer (1920-2017) at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Libary and its Indiana Room collection. I recently visited there and reviewed their research file. It contains correspondence with Mrs. Kramer and Dr. Lane about George Greene from a period 1980-1982. She carbon copied all her letters about this research and Dr. Lane was good enough to send her copies of what he had found for the library file. The file contains more than what is covered in the 1987 article. Greene had correspondence with James Hall (New York State Museum of Natural History),  Edward Orton (Ohio Geological Survey), Stephen E. Lee (Indiana Department of Geology and Natural History), S.S. Gorby (Indiana Department of Geology and Natural History), William W. Borden (Borden Institute), S.S. Newberry (School of Mines, Columbia College), William A. Oliver (U.S. National Museum), and letters to Canadian geological institutions.

After reading a lot of the letters Mrs. Kramer had sent trying obtain more information about George Greene for the library, I had respect for this research. Since this had occurred over 40 years ago I felt she had probably passed away and went looking for an obituary. I only found a notice in a Pennsylvanian newspaper she had died but no obituary and just that she was buried nearby in Floyd Knobs, Indiana next to her husband. Next did a little more research and found a memorial video created by her daughters on YouTube that I found to be a very touching remembrance of a life well lived.