Addison E. Verrill

Addison Emery Verrill was born in Greenwood, Maine in 1839. While growing up in Maine, he developed his abilities as a naturalist. In 1862 he graduated from Harvard University, after having studied under Louis Agassiz. Two years later, at 25 years old, he became Yale University’s first professor of Invertebrate Zoology. Professor Verrill taught at Yale, and was curator at the Peabody Museum until his retirement in 1907.

In 1860 he began traveling to study the invertebrate Fauna of the Atlantic coast. Verrill became the chief authority of living cephalopods, especially the giant squid of the North Atlantic. His 1874 Report upon the Invertebrate Animals of Vineyard Sound, with Sidney Irving Smith, whose sister he married, is a standard manual of the maritime zoology of southern New England. His lifelong devotion to taxonomic research resulted in the initial development of extensive collections at Yale in a wide area of taxa. Verrill’s published works include more than 350 papers and monographs. He described more than 1000 species of animals in virtually every major taxonomy group, which are still valid after years of revisions by subsequent researchers.

The professor was a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1959 Yale established the Addison Emery Verrill Medal, awarded for achievement in the natural sciences.

Verrill purchased Outer Island in 1889. He described it as being jungle-like then, with the shores and much of the interior covered with large boulders. There was no beach and no safe landing place, even for row boats. He had a 10 room house built, and his family became the first inhabitants of the island, often staying there well into November each year. Heat was supplied by two fireplaces and three stoves. Those many boulders were removed and used in building the retaining walls, the 150’ long breakwater, and the 100’ long dock. Over the years, Verrill built an additional 7 small buildings, including a 5 room cottage, boathouse, bath-house, and small utility buildings. Typical to other Thimble Island structures, most of these would eventually become covered with vines. There were three cement and stone rain water cisterns and a high, 1000 gallon wooden cistern. A gasoline engine powered a water pump that filled that wooden cistern. It also powered a grindstone, washing machine, and a circular saw, that cut the abundant driftwood for use as fuel. There were dozens of varieties of hardy trees and flowering shrubs. Several apple and pear trees were planted, along with grapevines. There were also vegetable gardens, flower gardens, and a number of rock gardens. Professor Verrill spent forty summers on Outer Island with his family, offering workshops to his students at Yale and keeping yearly records of the invertebrates of the surrounding coastal area.

Verrill died in Santa Barbara, CA at the age of 87 in 1926. His house was lost to a fire in 1927, with only the stone chimney remaining.