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Robert H. Merrill papers

Identifier: RHC-222

Collection Description

This collection contains correspondence, maps, newspaper clippings, notes, and other files reflecting the life of Robert H. Merrill. The collection predominantly focuses on the civil engineering and archaeology projects that Merrill completed, including work on the Grand Canal in China and expeditions to Mexico, Italy, Panama, and several areas in the United States. Merrill’s papers also reflect his personal interests in geology and astronomy and his involvement with the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Merrill was a prolific photographer and documented his personal life and professional endeavors extensively. In addition to a selection of developing equipment, the collection includes over 500 photographic prints, more than 1,000 glass lantern slides, and over 1,300 photographic negatives.


  • 1902-1956


Access to Materials

Collection is open for research use. Materials may be accessed by request at Special Collections and University Archives in Seidman House. Materials do not circulate.

Access to original negatives within the Photographic Materials series are restricted due to material fragility. Where prints or lantern slides are not available as surrogates within the collection, digital copies are available. Contact Special Collections & University Archives for more information.

Publication Rights

The collection is the physical property of Grand Valley State University, but all literary rights are retained by the original creators of materials, their estates, heirs, or third parties. It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure appropriate permissions for publication beyond the bounds of fair use.

Biographical Note

Robert Hall Merrill was born on January 18, 1881 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1902. He worked as a civil engineer in Michigan and New York before moving to Tianjin, China in 1918 to work with the Grand Canal Improvement Board. He returned to Grand Rapids in 1921 and opened the consulting firm Spooner & Merrill with Charles Spooner.

During this time, Merrill developed a strong interest in archaeology. For the next several years, he worked as a surveyor, photographer, and laborer for archaeological expeditions in areas such as New Mexico, Alaska, Mexico, Italy, and Panama. He was interested in the application of engineering methods to archaeological fieldwork and notably developed a photographic mosaic tower to take vertical photographs of excavations. He was an amateur photographer and extensively documented his work and travels.

Throughout his lifetime, Merrill also developed interests in geology and astronomy with a particular focus on studying the Maya Calendar. He was involved in numerous professional organizations, most prominently as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Cranbrook Institute of Science. Merrill died in 1955.

[sources for collection description and chronology: Robert H. Merrill Papers, Grand Valley State University Archives and Special Collections, Will of Robert Hall Merrill, and the Grand Rapids Herald]


16.6 Linear feet (41 boxes)

Language of Materials



Arranged in 7 series: 1) Biographical Information, 2) Civil Engineering papers, 3) Archaeology papers, 4) Geology papers, 5) Astronomy papers, 6) Cranbrook Institute of Science records, and 7) Photographic materials. The Photographic materials series also includes 3 subseries: 1) Prints, 2) Glass Lantern Slides, and 3) Negatives and positives. While some chronological order is followed in the collection, materials are more consistently arranged by context, which reflects the creator's original organization.

Custodial History

The previous custodian of this collection apparently intended to write a biography about Merrill. For this reason, some of the collection materials might reflect dates that fall outside of Merrill's life.

Guide to the Robert H. Merrill papers, 1902-1956
Adrienne Rife
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Valley State University Special Collections and University Archives Repository

Seidman House
1 Campus Drive
Allendale MI 49401 United States