E.H. Barbour arrived at the University of Nebraska in fall 1891 as a professor of geology, curator of the State Museum and acting state geologist.
He brought with him not only a doctoral degree from Yale, but also an extensive collection of minerals, sediment samples and vertebrate fossils unearthed on his self-financed field trip to northwestern Nebraska the previous summer. Barbour’s initiative inspired banker Charles Henry Morrill to fund the Morrill Geological Expeditions, sent out annually by the university to collect fossils and museum specimens in Nebraska and adjoining states.
From Barbour and Morrill’s partnership emerged a plan to erect a permanent museum home. Dedicated in 1927 and beloved by generations of schoolchildren, Morrill Hall displays the University of Nebraska’s world-class fossils and natural history exhibits.
With its new Cherish Nebraska exhibits on the renovated fourth floor, which just opened to the public Saturday, Morrill Hall is expected to draw a new level of interest in Nebraska’s natural history.
“This floor celebrates Nebraska — our natural history and connections to our diverse cultural heritage,” said Susan Weller, director of the museum and professor of entomology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I think it’ll be transformational for many people. Someone on our team said to me, ‘I’m from Nebraska, and I’ve never been more proud of Nebraska.’ And it just took my breath away that we helped open her eyes to something she had never realized about the state.”
Weller, who became head of the NU State Museum in 2015, said the scale of the expansion — seven new galleries in 11,000 square feet — surpasses any she’s overseen.
That scale required major contributions from many people and organizations, especially the Nebraska-based Theodore F. and Claire M. Hubbard Family Foundation, the Claire M. Hubbard Foundation, Ruth and Bill Scott, and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
The expansion builds on a legacy shaped by E.H. Barbour and Charles Henry Morrill and represents the latest effort to establish the NU State Museum as the “Smithsonian of the Plains.”