In the late 1800s, a young woman named Emily Harrison saw an irreplaceable treasure in the vastly shrinking woodlands of Atlanta. Ahead of her time, perhaps, this naturalist led the charge to preserve 65 acres of forest in the shadows of city expansion and neighborhood development.
It's believed that one of her favorite places in the forest was a creek bank covered with ferns, which she named "Fernbank."
Harrison's vision still thrives through the conservation work and science education of Fernbank Museum. The museum's mission includes an ongoing commitment to Fernbank Forest, which was purchased by the Trustees of Fernbank to preserve and protect it for future generations. Today, at 65 acres, Fernbank Forest is the largest old-growth urban Piedmont forest in the country.
As an adult, Harrison dreamed of maintaining the forest as a "school in the woods" for nature study. In 1939, Harrison and Dr. Woolford Baker, a biologist at Emory University, led a group of 15 "conservation-minded environmentalists" to establish Fernbank as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the intent to purchase and preserve the 65 acres of old-growth woodlands.
*Fernbank’s campus sits on the indigenous lands of the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee peoples.
Fernbank Museum may be the only natural history museum to "grow" out of a forest. After nearly 100 years of inspiration and decades of planning, ground was broken in 1989 for a natural history museum that would fulfill Ms. Harrison's dream of a "school in the woods" and inspire future generations of naturalists and scientists.
Built along the border of the forest to preserve the integrity of the undisturbed woodlands, Fernbank Museum officially opened to the public on Oct. 5, 1992.