Maryland Department of Natural Resources

A Short History of the Maryland Geological Survey

Maryland was preceded by only four other states in establishing a geological survey, but claims credit for being the first to fully recognize the importance of a topographic map base on which to represent the geology of the State.

As sentiment grew for public financing of internal improvements, legislation was proposed to address the need for better maps. Following a year-long reconnaissance of the State to determine the feasibility of a formal geological survey, the General Assembly established the first geological survey of Maryland in February, 1834. John Henry Alexander and Julius Timoleon Ducatel were appointed to the posts of Topographical Engineer and Geologist, respectively. In accordance with terms of the legislation, they began their survey on the Lower Eastern Shore and proceeded westward into the Appalachians of Western Maryland. Although Alexander resigned in 1837 because of what he saw as political meddling that interfered with his map preparations, the work continued until 1842, when the legislature terminated the survey. Much data and field notes were never published.

The 1830's witnessed the explosive rise of State geological surveys for purposes of economic development of the States and of broadened education in the natural sciences. By 1837, there were fourteen State surveys, but the Panic of 1837 took its toll, and by 1843, there were only three active surveys remaining. Maryland was no exception.

During the eight years of this first Maryland Survey, the pace of the work of Alexander and Ducatel was incredible, in that Ducatel produced maps and reports on the geology, mineral resources, physical geography, and soils for virtually the entire state, all on topographic maps prepared by Alexander.


The termination of the first geological survey was followed by a period of little organized geological work. From time to time over the next 50 years, privately supported investigations were made of various aspects of Maryland geology, but little systematic work was undertaken--that is, with the main exception of the work of Philip T. Tyson, State Agricultural Chemist, from 1858 to 1862. His first report in 1860 illustrates the importance Tyson placed on geology. The report contained the first detailed, full color geologic map of the entire State (scale 1:600,000) as well as several chapters that dealt with the mineralogy and geology of Maryland. Tyson's second report, in 1862, again gave considerable attention to geology, especially the State's mineral resources and their geographical distribution.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, government funding for the Agricultural Chemist ceased, and these efforts also came to an end. For the next 34 years, there were no State-funded geological studies in Maryland. However, a number of individuals and institutions made contributions during that time.

The most significant precursor to a new State survey was the establishment in 1883 of a geology department at the Johns Hopkins University.


The Maryland Geological and Economic Survey, 1896-1941

A bill to reestablish a State geological survey was introduced into the Maryland General Assembly in January, 1896, and signed by Governor Lloyd Lowndes on March 19. The official name was the Maryland Geological and Economic Survey, but it was more commonly to be known as the Maryland Geological Survey. The new Survey was placed under the direction of a commission composed of the Governor, the State Comptroller, the President of the Johns Hopkins University, and the President of the Maryland Agricultural College. The first State Geologist and Superintendent of the Survey was Dr. William Bullock Clark, Professor of Stratigraphy and Paleontology at Johns Hopkins. Clark promptly selected Dr. Edward Bennett Mathews, Professor of Mineralogy and Petrography, to be the Assistant State Geologist. Both men held joint appointments with the State and Johns Hopkins -- a situation that would continue until 1952. The arrangement between Johns Hopkins and the Survey was unique in that it linked a State agency and a private university. It was particularly important in formative years of the Survey.

Great geological activity in many areas characterized the tenure of Dr. Clark in the period 1896-1917. Fundamental geologic studies highlighted this period, including many of the now classic Systematic Reports. Additionally, many county geologic maps and some mineral commodity reports were published.

In 1898, the Survey was authorized to establish a highway division. The scope of the Survey was extended to conduct a study of road construction in Maryland, to classify road-building materials, and to study their distribution. A series of comprehensive reports on the highways of Maryland had much to do with increased appropriations for modern roads. A few years later, a separate board known as the State Roads Commission was created, but roads were still constructed under the supervision of the chief engineer of the Survey.

The early Survey also conducted work on forests, and in 1906 spawned a State Board of Forestry.

E. B. Mathews became State Geologist in 1917. Although he continued many of Clark's policies, the emphasis changed, at least in the earlier years, to mineral resources, with reports on coal, fire clays, molding sands, feldspar, chrome, and manganese.

The Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources, 1941-1964

The Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources was created by the State in 1941 by combining the functions of the Geological Survey, the State Bureau of Mines, the Water Front Commission, and the Water Resources Commission. Although the new Department now had regulatory-management responsibilities in the fields of gas and oil, mining, and water resources, its major function remained scientifically oriented. For the first time in its history, the Maryland Geological Survey, as it was still popularly known, was not an independent agency, having now become a member agency of the newly formed Board of Natural Resources.

Dr. Joseph T. Singewald, Jr., Professor of Economic Geology at Johns Hopkins, became State Geologist and Director of the Survey following the Dr. Mathews' departure in 1943. Geological investigations were conducted chiefly, as in the past, by the geology faculty and students at Johns Hopkins.

Two pieces of legislation, passed over a decade apart, had a major impact on the work of the Survey: the Water Appropriations Act of 1933 and the Well Drillers Law of 1945. The 1933 law created the Water Resources Commission, which had the responsibility for issuing permits or otherwise regulating the appropriation of surface and ground waters for any use other than for purely domestic or farm purposes. When this regulatory function was transferred to the Survey in 1941, the need was recognized to conduct geological and hydrological investigations that would provide the basis for sound decisions regarding water appropriations.

A cooperative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey for investigations of surface-water resources had been in force since 1924. In 1943, a somewhat similar arrangement was made with regard to ground-water investigations. More than any other accomplishment, the growth of this program highlighted Dr. Singewald's tenure as Director.

Singewald was an outspoken advocate of the conservation of water, minerals, soils, and native vegetation, and it was due in large part to his efforts that the Well Drillers Law of 1945 was passed. The 1933 law had been pretty well ignored. The 1945 law addressed the issue of licensing well drillers and also requiring permits before drilling any water well. The information obtained automatically through this law, from the well permit applications and the well-completion reports, represented a wealth of data on the ground waters of the State that otherwise would have been lost or only incompletely collectible at great expense of time and money. The permitting system for well drillers and water appropriations was one of the earliest such programs in the nation.

Among the functions transferred to the Survey in 1941 were those of the Water Front Commission, whose responsibility it had been to recommend to the Legislature plans and policies for protecting the State's shorelines and waterways against erosion and to cooperate in carrying the Legislature's plans into effect. In 1947, the Survey began conducting the first quantitative study of shoreline erosion and accretion along the entire shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Other significant legislation developed with the Survey's support during Singewald's tenure included Maryland's first strip-mining law in 1955 and an oil and gas law in 1956, which provided needed implementation of the 1945 Well Control Act and provided some control over the spacing of wells to prevent excessive wasteful drilling.

When Singewald retired in 1962, Dr. Ernst Cloos, chairman of the geology department at Hopkins, became the Acting Director of the Survey. During his brief tenure, Dr. Cloos was instrumental in establishing a full-time Shore Erosion Program and in broadening the scope of activities of the Survey.

In 1963, Kenneth N. Weaver became Director and State Geologist, thus ending nearly 68 years of co-appointments as chairman of the geology department and Director of the Survey, although the Survey did remain on the Hopkins campus for a time.

Dr. Weaver was still in his first year of office when the Survey underwent another reorganization and name change.

The Maryland Geological Survey, 1964 to Present

In a 1964 reorganization of the Board of Natural Resources, the name of the Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources reverted to the Maryland Geological Survey, and its regulatory and management functions in regard to water resources were transferred to a new Department of Water Resources. The Survey retained regulatory authority over gas and oil well drilling. The Maryland Bureau of Mines, which still had regulatory control of coal mining, kept its attachment to the Survey, but operated as an independent Bureau in Western Maryland. In light of this reorganization, one of Dr. Weaver's first tasks was to establish a plan for the long-range development of the Survey--a plan that provided general direction for nearly 30 years.

Another reorganization within State government occurred in 1969, when the Survey became an agency of a new Department of Natural Resources. This marked the end of the administrative and staff affiliation with the Johns Hopkins University, although the Survey remained on the Hopkins campus. That same year, a Division of Archeology was added to the Survey.

During the 1970's and 1980's, various regulatory functions were transferred to and from the Survey, and by the 1990's the Survey had no regulatory functions of any kind.

From the mid-1960's through the mid-1980's, the Survey experienced fairly steady growth. Having had a full-time professional staff of four geologists in 1964, the Survey grew to fourteen professional and support staff by 1969. By 1989, the total full-time staff had grown to approximately fifty people. This growth reflected an economy conducive to growth and the increasing importance attached to the Survey's mission to investigate the geological resources of Maryland. This period saw a great rejuvenation of geologic mapping activities and continued growth of Chesapeake Bay research and water-resources investigations.

This growth took its toll on available space on the Hopkins campus. In 1982, the Survey moved from the campus, and was scattered over three locations in the Baltimore area.

Under Dr. Weaver's leadership, the Survey obtained appropriations for the complete renovation of a complex of two vacant State-owned buildings in Baltimore. In June, 1986, the Survey moved into its new, permanent headquarters at 2300 St. Paul Street. The buildings had been built in 1888 and 1893 and had been part of the original Woman's College of Baltimore (later Goucher College). For the first time in many years, the entire Survey was under one roof (except for two or three hydrogeologists assigned to DNR headquarters in Annapolis).

A turning point in staff growth and budgets seems to have begun in late 1990, as the nation slipped into recession. Staff reduction through attrition became Department-wide policy. The Survey survived the recession, but not without a reduction in professional and support staff through retirements, resignations, and reassignments to other agencies.

Dr. Weaver retired in 1992, and was succeeded by long-time Deputy Director, Dr. Emery T. Cleaves. The transition was smooth, as major functions and activities continued pretty much unchanged. However, continuing austerity characterized State government to a large extent.

In 1995, a major reorganization of the Department of Natural Resources resulted in the Survey becoming a division within a new agency, Resource Assessment Service, in the Department of Natural Resources.

Jeffrey P. Halka stepped up to head the Survey as Acting Director after Dr. Emery T. Cleaves retired in 2007, and was named Director of the Survey in 2010. In 2013 Jeffrey Halka retired and Richard Ortt was appointed as the New Director.


The Maryland Geological Survey operates under provisions of Title 2 of the Natural Resources Code. Its mission is primarily scientific-investigative, with authorization to conduct topographic, geologic, hydrographic, and geophysical surveys; to prepare topographic, geologic, and other types of maps to meet specific needs; to prepare reports on the extent and character of the geology, minerals, and water resources of the State; and to engage in, sponsor, and coordinate archeological research in Maryland.

Since 1972, the Maryland Geological Survey has carried out its mission through four programs. The General Direction Program is responsible for budgetary and fiscal matters, personnel, publications office, general office management, and overall supervision of the Survey's three scientific programs: Hydrogeology and Hydrology, Environmental Geology and Mineral Resources, and Coastal and Estuarine Geology.

The Hydrogeology and Hydrology Program of the Maryland Geological Survey conducts applied research of the groundwater and surface water of the State of Maryland. The Program continues a long history of water-resource investigations by the Maryland Geological Survey that began over a century ago. The Program frequently partners with federal, state, and local government to provide critical information and analysis for effective water-resource management. Over the course of many decades the Program has explored and mapped the aquifer system framework and natural groundwater quality across much of the State. In addition, the Program, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, maintains an extensive groundwater-level and water-quality data network. Data collected by the Program is used for resource assessment, and to construct and calibrate groundwater-flow models for prediction of potential effects of future water demand and changes in climate. The Program currently consists of nine hydrogeologists along with support staff located at the Baltimore headquarters and at a field office in Annapolis.

The Environmental Geology and Mineral Resources Program encompasses areas of geological investigations; geologic mapping; environmental geology applications; mapping of present and potential mineral resources; and the general dissemination of earth-science information about Maryland. Public outreach and earth-science education are also important functions of the Earth Science Information Center. Studies such as these provide the basic framework for outlining and managing the land and mineral resources of the State, and generate the geologic information necessary for making wise land-use decisions.

Having grown out of the shore erosion program initiated in 1963, the Coastal and Estuarine Geology Program evolved faster than any other program of the Survey. Through the early 1970's, the Program was devoted almost exclusively to measuring shoreline erosion and to providing technical assistance to property owners experiencing shore erosion problems. In the mid-1970's, the Chesapeake Bay Earth Science Study focused on conducting the first comprehensive overview of the physical, chemical, and biological processes affecting the sediments on the Bay bottom. From 1978 through 1981, the Program participated in an EPA Chesapeake Bay Study, which promoted growth of the program and led to continued funding by the State.

In 2007, the Survey was reorganized and the Environmental Geology and Mineral Resources Program and the Coastal and Estuarine Geology Program were combined to form the Coastal and Environmental Geology Program.


The Maryland Geological Survey observed its 100th anniversary in 1996. For the foreseeable future, the direction of the Maryland Geological Survey will continue to be primarily one of applied geological studies and mapping aimed at providing for the geological information needs of the State of Maryland and its citizens. Public service has been and will continue to be the Survey's ultimate role: service by seeking out and providing information on earth resources of the State to aid in the wise and orderly development of these resources for the benefit of the State and its people. Geologic and hydrologic studies, assessments, and evaluations are expected to remain important activities of the Maryland Geological Survey.

1Greatly abridged from: Reger, James P., 1996, A History of the Maryland Geological Survey, in Brezinski, D. K. and Reger, J. P. (eds.), Studies in Maryland Geology--In Commemoration of the Centennial of the Maryland Geological Survey: Maryland Geological Survey, Special Publication No. 3, pp. 3-43.


  • 1833 General Assembly passed resolutions concerning a map of the State; J. H. Alexander appointed Engineer and J. T. Ducatel appointed Assistant Engineer.
  • 1834 Legislation established the first geological survey of the State; J. H. Alexander appointed Topographic Engineer and J. T. Ducatel appointed Geologist. (Survey terminated in 1842.)
  • 1859 First State Geologic Map published by State Agricultural Chemist (1:600,000).
  • 1896 General Assembly established State Geological and Economic Survey; William Bullock Clark named first State Geologist and Superintendent of the Survey.
  • 1917 Edward Bennett Mathews named State Geologist and Superintendent of the Survey.
  • 1941 Survey combined with other agencies to form Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources; Department became a member agency of the Board of Natural Resources.
  • 1943 Joseph T. Singewald, Jr., named State Geologist and Director of the Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources.
  • 1962 Ernst Cloos named Acting State Geologist.
  • 1963 Kenneth N. Weaver name State Geologist and Director of the Survey.
  • 1964 Name changed to Maryland Geological Survey, as water-resources regulatory functions were assigned to another agency.
  • 1969 Survey became member agency of the new Department of Natural Resources.
  • 1982 Survey became State affiliate of National Cartographic Information Center of U.S.G.S.
  • 1984 Ecphora quadricostata became Official State Fossil Shell by legislative Act. (Name subsequently changed to E. gardnerae gardnerae Wilson.)
  • 1986 Survey moved to its new and permanent headquarters at 2300 St. Paul Street, Baltimore.
  • 1992 Kenneth Weaver retired and was succeeded by Dr. Emery T. Cleaves.
  • 1995 The Survey is downgraded from an agency to a division within a State agency as part of a major reorganization within the Department of Natural Resources. Some geologic mapping is curtailed.
  • 1996 The Maryland Geological Survey celebrates its 100th anniversary.
  • 2001 Maryland Geological Survey establishes the Maryland Seismic Network, the state's only earthquake monitoring system.
  • 2007 Emery T. Cleaves, Director, retires from state service after 43 years of public service.
  • 2007 Jeffrey P. Halka is named Acting Director of the Survey.
  • 2010 Jeffrey P. Halka is named Director of the Survey.
  • 2013 Richard Ortt is named Director of the Survey.
  • 2023 Stephen Van Ryswick is named Director of the Survey.

This pamphlet was originally prepared in 1991 by Dr. James P. Reger.
Compiled by the Maryland Geological Survey, 2300 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
This electronic version of "A Short History of Maryland Geological Survey " was prepared by Bob Conkwright, Division of Coastal and Estuarine Geology, Maryland Geological Survey. Please send comments on this page to Dale Shelton (