The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is named for the first person to recognize the importance of the John Day Fossil Beds region.
Thomas Condon, a Congregationalist minister in Oregon and self-trained scientist, was the first person to identify this region as a world class paleontological site. Condon ministered at a church he had established in The Dalles and in the evenings, gave geology lectures there too. Condon first learned of the areas abundant fossils from soldiers in 1862 that had attended his lectures.
In 1865, Condon visited the basin for the first time with the First Oregon Cavalry and started excavating fossils. The specimens he sent to museums on the East Coast for verification ignited scientific interest, and he donated a selection of his specimens to the Smithsonian Institution. In recognition of his scientific work, Condon was appointed the first Oregon State Geologist in 1872. He would later become a professor of geology at the University of Oregon where he held that position until his death in 1907.