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March 16, 2015
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

1946 view of WH Lab
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Photos from the old and new main laboratories. Photo credit: NEFSC Photo Archive.

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A Look Back: The Main Laboratory at Woods Hole Opened in March 1960

The first laboratory on this site was completed in March 1885

On March 1, 1960, Woods Hole staff officially moved into a new main laboratory building, a three-story brick and glass structure covering 24,000 square feet located on the corner of Water and Albatross Streets, which is still in use today.  

The yellow brick building replaced the original three-story Victorian era structure which stood on the site from 1885 until 1958. Hurricanes in the 1940s and 1950s had severely damaged the aging lab and other buildings, including the residence, where staff and Fisheries founder Spencer Baird lived when he was in Woods Hole.

Land for the new Woods Hole Laboratory was donated by local residents, including Joseph S. Fay, or purchased with public and private funds. Among the donors were Alexander Agassiz, John Forbes, Isaiah Spindel and Company, Old Colony Railroad, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, and Williams College.

The Woods Hole Laboratory was originally located from 1871-1885 in a renovated shed borrowed from the U.S. Light-House Board on nearby Little Harbor, the present location of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Woods Hole and Sector Southeastern New England. Despite its small size that first research station included laboratory space and aquaria, containing specimens being studied by the researchers, that the public could view.  

The old 120 by 40-foot wooden laboratory on the present site, completed in March 1885, included a public aquarium and fish hatchery on the first floor, separated by the entrance hall. The second floor had a large laboratory with tables for biological research on one half, with a chemistry lab, supply room, and offices on the other half.  A library and two large stockrooms, one for chemicals and the other for glassware and instruments, occupied most of the third floor. Several small rooms also on the third floor, where fish culturists and a janitor lived, were later converted into laboratories.

The old laboratory, residence, and related structures were demolished in 1958 to make way for more modern facilities. In addition to the new lab, a new maintenance building and aquarium were built nearby and completed in 1961. The maintenance building today also houses data management systems, a library, and offices for the Population Dynamics Branch, along with the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, open to the public year-round.

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