one of the oldest landmarks on the Evanston campus
traces its origins to pre-Civil War Mississippi.
In 1859 F. A. P.
Barnard, president of the University of Mississippi, commissioned
construction of the observatory lens that eventually made its
way to Northwestern.
of Mississippi had commissioned lensmaker Alvin Clark of Cambridge,
Mass., to craft 18-1/2-inch glass blanks made in Birmingham, England,
into a lens that would surpass the 15-inch lenses at the Harvard
College Observatory in Cambridge and the Pulkova Observatory in
The lens, to be
installed in an observatory structure erected at the Oxford, Miss.,
campus, promised an image 50 percent brighter than Harvard and
Pulkova, the two largest refractors in the world at the time.
The lens would
become the largest in the world, a distinction it held for many
agreement with Clark fell through when the Civil War broke out.
The lens never made it to the Mississippi observatory, which eventually
became the home of the schools chancellor.
The lens made it
way to Chicago when the newly formed Chicago Astronomical Society
bought the lens from Clark for $18,187 in 1863. The society did
not have an observatory, but it promised the use of the lens to
the original University of Chicago, which agreed to build an observatory.
J. Y. Scammon donated the money for the observatory tower and
dome at 3400 S. Cottage Grove, Chicago. The lens was installed
in 1864, and the facility was named for Scammons late wife,
Mary Ann Haven Dearborn, a descendant of Revolutionary War hero
Henry Dearborn, for whom Fort Dearborn was named.
society decided to move the telescope to Northwestern after the
bankruptcy of the original University of Chicago in 1887. It was
installed in the new Dearborn Observatory on the Evanston campus
in a building donated by J. B. Hobbs.
The Dearborn Observatory
was built in 1889on what is now the site of the Technological
Institute at the south end of Noyes Street east of Sheridan
Road. It was designed by Henry Ives Cubb, who had designed the
Newberry Library in Chicago.
telescope was used by generations of astronomers to study the
planets, discover hundreds of double stars and nebulae, and measure
the precise rate of continental drift. Professor George Washington
Hough studied the planet Jupiter and became known as "Jupiter"
To make way for
construction of the Technological Institute in 1939, the observatory
was moved 664 feet southeast to its current location.
The herculean feat
used 26 jackscrews to move the 2,500-ton stone structure. Horses
were used with tractors to turn the winches.
The last major
change to the observatory took place three years ago when a new
aluminum dome was installed atop the structure. The dome -- eight
tons and 38 feet in diameter -- was installed with a huge crane
that placed the dome on the observatory in just a few minutes
The new dome and
other renovations to the observatory have enabled scientists and
students to continue to use the telescope for teaching and research
at a time when much astronomical study takes place on computer
screens that are thousands of miles away from telescopes in remote
sites or in outer space.
The new dome was
installed in August 1997. The new top was fabricated by Observa-DOME
Laboratories in Jackson, Miss., completing a Mississippi-Northwestern
connection that began 138 years earlier.