UA 023.039 Guide to the University Archives Photograph Collection, B. W. Wells Lantern Slides, 1920-1953

The collection is divided into 29 categories, based on the organization of the original group of slides transferred from the Department of Botany to the University Archives during the summer of 2005. The different groups of slides were separated from each other by notecards on which were written the different environments, ecological zones, or other classifications. These correspond somewhat with the chapters in The Natural Gardens of North Carolina. Wells' handwriting appears on some of the cards but not all of them. Therefore, while some of the organization of this collection can be attributed to Wells, it is probable that later faculty members and students influenced some of the arrangement. Some of the lantern slides have handwritten numbers on them. These numbers may have been used to order the slides for a presentation, but their original purpose is not clear. The University Archives has assigned each slide a new number (0021001, for example), for organizational purposes.The classification numbers include the following:
    Portions of this collection have been digitized and made available online.
    The entire collection, including materials not available online, may be viewed in the Special Collections reading room in D.H. Hill Library.
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    Wells, Bertram Whittier, 1884-1978


    4.0 Linear feet

    General Physical Description note

    551 slides, 10 card boxes


    For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Special Collections Research Center Reference Staff external link.



    Acquisition Information

    Transferred from the North Carolina State University Department of Botany, 2005-2006.


    Processed by: Todd Kosmerick, Jennifer McElroy, and Amanda Franklin; machine-readable finding aid created by: Todd Kosmerick and Karen Paar

    Scope and Content Note

    The collection is comprised of glass lantern slides created by Bertram Whittier Wells with a 4 by 5-inch Graflex single-lens reflex camera for use in his research and instruction. The slides measure 3.25 inches by 4 inches. There are 551 slides, including 57 duplicates. Most of the slides are black-and-white, but 132 of them are color, hand-tinted by Wells himself.

    The slides reflect Wells' research and teaching interests after he arrived at North Carolina State College in 1919. Most of these slides show landscapes and plants from various regions of North Carolina. Also included are maps, graphs, and diagrams that Wells reproduced from publications to illustrate points he made in his lectures and writings about these plants and environments. At least 41 of the slides show landscapes in other parts of North America, including the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Arctic tundra.

    Wells used the slides in his classroom teaching and in lectures given to garden clubs and other public groups. Some of the topics for these public lectures included, "The Patch Work of North Carolina's Great Green Quilt," "The Most Remarkable Plant Community in North Carolina: The Big Savannah," and "The Wild Flowers of North Carolina." Upon his retirement, Wells left the slides with the Department of Botany, where they were housed in a wooden cabinet and used by the faculty and students. The slides were stored this way until they were transferred to the University Archives in 2005-2006.

    A number of these slides are very similar to images used in some of Wells' publications. The major publication in which these images appear is Wells' book, The Natural Gardens of North Carolina with Keys and Descriptions of the Herbaceous Wild Flowers Found Therein. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932, 1967. Other monographs with these images include: Wells, B. W. "Major Plant Communities of North Carolina," North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 25 (1924). Wells, B. W. "Vegetation of Holly Shelter Wildlife Management Area," North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development, Division of Game and Inland Fisheries Bulletin 2 (1946). Wells, B. W., and I. V. Shunk. "A Southern Upland Grass-Sedge Bog: An Ecological Study," North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 32 (1928). Images were also included in several journal articles, including the following: Wells, B. W. "Carolina Bays: Additional Data on Their Origin, Age, and History," Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 69 (1953), 119-41. Wells, B. W. "A New Pyxie From North Carolina," Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 44 (1929), 238-39. Wells, B. W. "Origin and Development of the Lower Cape Fear Peninsula," Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 60 (1944), 129-34. Wells, B. W. "Plant Communities of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and Their Successional Relations," Ecology 9 (1928), 230-42. Wells, B. W. "Southern Appalachian Grass Balds," Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 53 (1937), 1-26. Wells, B. W. "The Vegetation and Habitat Factors of the Coarser Sands of the North Carolina Coastal Plain: An Ecological Study," Ecological Monographs 1 (1931), 465-520.

    In 2006, all of the slides except the duplicates were digitized, and item-level metadata was created for each.

    Biographical Note

    During his long and active life, B. W. (Bertram Whittier) Wells (1884-1978) pursued a deep interest in the study and preservation of North Carolina's unique landscape. He did this through his teaching and work as the head of North Carolina State College's Botany and Plant Pathology Department, his writing, and his personal involvement in botanical and environmental associations. James R. Troyer rightly entitled his book about Wells, Nature's Champion: B. W. Wells, Tar Heel Ecologist.

    Born in 1884 in Troy, Ohio, Wells studied botany at Ohio State University, received his doctorate at the University of Chicago, and taught at a number of universities before he came to North Carolina State College in 1919. Wells headed the Botany and Plant Pathology Department from 1919 to 1949 and continued teaching until his retirement in 1954. During his 35 years at State College, Wells had a significant influence on scientific study. His research interests included the insect galls of plants, the effects of salt on coastal vegetation, the role of pine communities in the coastal plain environment, the plant communities of the Big Savannah of Pender County, North Carolina, and the possible formation by meteorites of the Carolina Bays in the eastern part of the state.

    Wells also introduced the study of ecology to State College, and he traveled around North Carolina taking students on field trips and observing plants in their native environments. On his travels, Wells made photographs that he turned into glass lantern slides, and he used these slides in lectures to his students, as well as community groups across the state. Wells' collaboration with the Garden Club of North Carolina led to the 1932 publication of his book, The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, reprinted in 1967 and 2002. Through his talks to both scholarly and popular audiences, Wells advocated for the preservation of North Carolina habitats, but, as his biographer observed, Wells was "most effective as a popularizer of what needed to be conserved."

    Wells continued his advocacy and educational efforts during his retirement at Rock Cliff Farm, now the B. W. Wells portion of the Falls Lake State Recreation Area. After Wells' death in December 1978, friends and supporters kept his memory alive through the B. W. Wells Association that maintains his former home site and conducts botanical and environmental programs. Preservation efforts have also continued in Wells' name, as in the 2002 dedication of the B. W. Wells Savannah in Pender County, a tract of land with rare plants and environmental conditions documented by Wells in his glass lantern slides and writings on the Big Savannah. Wells was not able to save the Big Savannah, but his years of research and advocacy inspired others to preserve an example of this ecosystem that had been so important to B. W. Wells in his personal and professional life.

    Alternate Form of Material

    Digital copies of many lantern slides are available online external link.

    Access to Collection

    This collection is open for research; access requires at least 24 hours advance notice.

    For more information contact us via mail, phone, fax, or our web form.


    Special Collections Research Center
    Box 7111
    Raleigh, NC, 27695-7111


    (919) 515-2273


    (919) 513-1787

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], B. W. Wells Lantern Slides, University Archives Photograph Collection, UA 023.039, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina

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