Fernbank Museum of Natural History grew out of the dream of Emily Harrison, a young girl who played in the woodlands surrounding her home in the 19th century, and a forest that inspired her passion as an educator and a naturalist. Named by Emily after a creek bank covered with a variety of ferns, "Fernbank" became publicly recognized in the late 1880s.
As an adult, Emily dreamed of preserving Fernbank as a school in the woods for nature study. In 1938, she and her friend, Dr. Woolford Baker, led a group to charter Fernbank, Inc. to purchase and preserve the forest. Today, at 65 acres, Fernbank Forest is the largest old-growth urban Piedmont forest in the country.
After nearly 100 years of inspiration and decades of planning, ground was broken for a 160,000-square-foot natural history museum in 1989. Fernbank Museum of Natural History officially opened to the public on October 5, 1992, becoming one of the only museums in the world to grow out of a forest. Fernbank Museum today is one of the most popular and iconic cultural attractions in Atlanta, serving nearly a half-million visitors each year.
In 2001, Fernbank became the first museum to display the world's largest dinosaurs in the permanent exhibition Giants of the Mesozoic.
Fernbank received accreditation by the American Association of Museums in 2003-a recognition awarded to less than 5 percent of museums nationwide.
In 2004, Fernbank was selected as the new permanent home of The St. Catherines Island Foundation and Edward John Noble Foundation Collection, which includes more than one million Native American and European artifacts from Mission Santa Catalina de Guale.
In 2006, Fernbank's Curator of Native American Archaeology, Dennis Blanton, began an archaeology research program in Telfair County, Georgia, which has yielded numerous artifacts that can be traced to Hernando de Soto. Fernbank's exciting research has received international attention and garnered the support of the National Geographic Society.
In 2011, Fernbank Museum opened Fernbank NatureQuest, a revolutionary new children's exhibition that builds on the sophisticated learning style of modern children.