Joseph LeConte was born in 1823 in Liberty County, Georgia. He grew up on Woodmanstan Plantation, which his father owned, and kept up a botanical garden and a chemical laboratory on the land. He attended the University of Georgia and continued his education to earn an M.D. at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, now the Columbia University Medical School. After he had established himself as a doctor, his cousin William Louis Jones persuaded him to study geology and zoology at Harvard under Professor Agassiz. LeConte and Jones were part of the first graduating class from Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard. LeConte taught at Oglethorpe University in Milledgeville, Georgia, for only a year, before holding a position at University of Georgia. He and his brother, John, then moved to the University of South Carolina, and later to the University of California at Berkeley, where Joseph LeConte was a Professor of Geology. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America, and a founder of the Sierra Club. LeConte published several books, including was Elements of Geology.
LeConte was grouped in “the Contemporaries of the Deep South.” Lewis described him as “physicist, geologist, biologist, chiefly an evolutionist, Georgia-born, called one of the three or four greatest figures in the whole history of southern science.” The name LeConte for a Mountain Lake cottage was recommended by Earle R. Greene, from the United States Department of Agriculture in New Holland, N.C. Although it is believed that the cottage was named after Joseph, his brother, John LeConte, was also a prominent naturalist and created a comprehensive list of Georgia birds.