List of Cornell Observatories

Cornell has a rich history of observatories for geodetic and astronomical observation. They include:

The First Observatory

The first Cornell observatory, constructed in the early 1880s, was little more than a small wooden shed. It was originally described by students as "a frame-work of poles over which a canvas covering is soon to be stretched," although it was eventually crowned with a tin roof upon completion. It was located to the east of the wooden laboratory building, where the north-end of present day Goldwin-Smith Hall now stands. Though it offered little protection from the cold, this observatory allowed students in Civil Engineering to make observations of stars and time their measurements via electrical connection to the master clock of the Department of Physics.

The Second Observatory

A few years later, construction began on a slightly more substantial structure just to the east of the original observatory. With a tin dome to house an equatorial telescope and piers for transit instruments, the observatory was completed in early 1885. While improvements were made over the following years, the observatory building appears to have been considered temporary and inadequate by students and administration alike.

In the 1893, plans for a new agricultural building referred to as the State Dairy Building were approved. The plans called for this sandstone structure to be placed on the quadrangle just south of Lincoln Hall, where the observatories then stood. The observatories were moved to more secluded location, roughly 850 ft (~260m) south–where the east end of Day Hall presently stands–and combined into a single, remodeled structure. Photos show a wooden building with the original round shed appended to the western end of the second observatory along with an additional domed section extending off the northeastern end. By the 1895, plans were already underway for a more permanent observatory building, leaving the second observatory to limp along until eventually being removed.

Cornell Archives

Cornell Archives

From Waterman Hewitt's Cornell University: A History (1905):

Professor Fuertes had advocated for many years the erection of an astronomical observatory. He possessed several telescopes which were purchased by the university, and which were installed in a wooden building which stood on the site of the north wing of the Goldwin Smith Hall. Later it was removed to the site of Stimson Hall. The building had many practical conveniences, owing to the skill and enthusiasm of the professor who planned it. It, however, was incomplete, and was itself a standing reproach to the campus.

A. C. Barnes Observatory

Built 1902, demolished 1914, located on the site of the current Barton Hall

Waterman Hewitt's Cornell University: A History (1905)

Cornell Archives

From Waterman Hewitt's Cornell University: A History (1905):

General Alfred C. Barnes, of the Board of Trustees, offered to erect a geodetic observatory which, while not large enough to meet the needs of an astronomical observatory, would yet serve for such astronomical practice as it was necessary for students in civil engineering to receive. This building stands on the eminence south of the veterinary college. It contains a computing room twenty feet square at the west end, a transit room, four piers, a clock-room, and two domes over the clock-room twenty feet and eighteen feet in diameter respectively. The west front extends south from the computing room, with a prime vertical transit room, a general instrument room, and a dome, eleven feet in diameter, above the instrument room. This observatory contained at its opening a five-inch equatorial, two altazimuths, two astronomical transits, and two zenith telescopes with two chronographs, and an astronomical clock. This building was completed so that it could be used in September, 1903.

Note that some sources, and also some commemorative postcards, refer to this observatory as "Fuertes" observatory. Others refer to it as "Barton Hall" observatory, because it was demolished for construction of that building, which has a cornerstone dated 1915. By 1914 it was officially known as the "Fuertes Astronomical Observatory and Geodetic Laboratory."

The Present Fuertes Observatory

Built 1916, located on a hill on North Campus overlooking Beebe Lake

Hartung-Boothroyd Observatory

Built 1974, located atop Mount Pleasant, 5 miles from the Cornell campus

Fuertes Observatory
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