The First Delaware Geological Survey

Event Date

During most of the 19th century, Delaware, with the exception of Wilmington, had a farm economy; therefore, the State's first geological survey focused most of its attention on the relationship between geology and agriculture. In fact, the scientist who carried out this survey, James C. Booth, devoted nearly all of the "Economical Geology" part of his report to agriculture and soils. He also discussed the use of various types of crystalline rocks "in arts of construction," that is, the construction of buildings, roads, and breakwaters. Surprisingly, he already understood the environmental importance of Delaware's wetlands long before concern for the environment was common (Pickett, 1976).

Booth was engaged as Delaware's first State Geologist on June 1, 1837, a few months after the General Assembly appropriated funds for the survey. He presented his findings (Booth, 1841) in a report titled "Memoir of the Geological Survey of the State of Delaware: Including the Application of the Geological Observations to Agriculture." That volume, which became exceedingly rare with the passing years, was reproduced in facsimile by The Delaware Geological Survey as a United States Bicentennial project (Pickett, 1976).

Booth's work so substantially advanced geologic knowledge of Delaware at the time of its publication that no need was felt to continue his work. Indeed, it was to be a long time before the growth of industry and the introduction of irrigation required the development of considerable ground-water resources, which in turn demanded the systematic investigation of the hydrogeology of Delaware.

The discontinuation of many geological surveys in the late eighteen thirties and early eighteen forties was not unusual, in part, because it was felt that they had fulfilled their goals. But, also, a depression and its attendant financial difficulties resulted in suspensions of appropriations for many years (Rabbit, 1979).

In the mid 1880s, Frederick D. Chester, a young professor at Delaware College (now the University of Delaware), was investigating sand and gravel deposits and the crystalline rocks of the Piedmont in Delaware. He attempted to gain recognition from the Delaware General Assembly as State Geologist but without success (Pickett, 1988).

For more details about the History of DGS, see SP17 The Delaware Geological Survey: The Formative Years, 1951-1969.