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Existing National Historic Landmarks


Astronomy and Astrophysics
Other Sites
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The following sites were considered for designation as National Historic Landmarks under this theme but were rejected due to lack of integrity and/or failure to establish national significance. Those sites noted with an * are believed to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.


Ukiah International Latitude Observatory*
Ukiah, California

The Ukiah International Latitude Observatory was one of six astronomical stations established in the northern hemisphere in 1899 for the purpose of making systematic latitude observations. A sister station, the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory, has been recommended for designation as a National Historic Landmark. The Ukiah Observatory should be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and evaluated for National Historic Landmark designation. At this writing no information is available concerning this site.


Van Vlect Observatory*
Wesleyan University,
Middletown, Connecticut

Although the history of this observatory dates back to 1838 the present telescope and structure date from 1915. The 1838 observatory was demolished in 1868. The 1868 observatory was demolished in 1915. The current observatory dates from 1916. Since 1925 the chief research problem worked on at the Van Vleck Observatory has been the determination of stellar parallaxes.


Natural History Museum
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC.

Site of the April 26, 1920, debate between Dr. Harlow Shapley and Dr. Herber D. Curtis concerning the size, nature, and extent of the universe. The debate was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences. Attendees included Albert Einstein, Robert A. Millikan, George A. Hale, A.A. Michelson, and other leaders of the American astronomical community.


Northwestern University*
Dearborn Observatory
Evanston, Illinois

Used by astronomer George Washington Hough (1836-1909) to study double stars and to carry through long-term observations of the planet Jupiter. The lens for the 18-1/2-inch refractor at the Dearborn Observatory was completed Alvan Clark (1804-1887) in 1861. In 1862, while testing this lens, Clark observed the dark companion star orbiting Sirius. Clark received a medal from the French Academy of Science for this achievement.


Maria Mitchell Observatory*
Vestal Street
Nantucket, Massachusetts

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) was America's first woman astronomer and the first woman to be admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As a young girl she helped her father, William, a Nantucket astronomer, with his observations. On October 1, 1847, Maria Mitchell discovered a comet and won international recognition. The observatory building was constructed in 1908 and incorporates part of her birthplace and family home on Nantucket.

Hopkins Observatory*
Williams College
Williamstown, Massachusetts

The Hopkins Observatory is associated with the career of Professor Albert Hopkins who traveled to Europe in 1834-35 and brought back many astronomical instruments, including a Herschelian reflector of 10-foot focal length. The Observatory building dates to 1868 and is one of the oldest extant observatory buildings in the United States today.


Princeton University
Fritz Randolph Observatory
Princeton, New Jersey

Associated with the work of Henry Norris Russell (1877-1957) who was the director of the Princeton Observatory from 1912 to 1921. Russell was the co-discoverer, with Ejnar Hertzsprung, of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, which showed there was a relationship between a star's brightness and color. After 1921 Russell moved to the Mount Wilson Observatory. Harlow Shapley studied here as a graduate student in astronomy under the direction of Henry Norris Russell. The present observatory building dates from 1934. An original Rittenhouse Orrery is on display in the building.


Vassar College Observatory*
Poughkeepsie, New York

Associated with the career of Maria Mitchell (1818-89), an early American woman astronomer. In 1865 Mitchell was appointed to the chair of astronomy and director of the observatory at Vassar where she studied the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn.


David Rittenhouse Birthplace*
207 Lincoln Drive
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was important in the fields of astronomy and mathematics. In order to observe the transit of Venus in 1769, Rittenhouse constructed the first telescope to be made in America. Rittenhouse also constructed orreries, or "mechanical planetariums." An orrery is a mechanical apparatus which illustrates with balls of various sizes the relative motions and positions of the planets.

This site was rejected in the 1964 Arts and Sciences theme study because Rittenhouse lived there only as a youth and it is bare of original furniture. The study did not identify any other Rittenhouse sites.

Sproul Observatory*
Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Associated with Peter Van De Kamp (1901- ), who claimed to have discovered (1963) the nearest planetary system to our own star, orbiting the red dwarf known as Barnard's Star.


McDonald Observatory*
Fort Davis, Texas
(Mount Locke, Texas)

The McDonald Observatory was dedicated in 1939 as a result of a joint agreement between the Universities of Chicago and Texas to establish and jointly operate a new observatory in the western part of North America. The observatory contains both 107-inch and 82-inch reflecting telescopes and a 36-inch Cassegrain telescope. In the years since 1939 the McDonald Observatory has been the site of many famous astronomical discoveries, including the discovery of a satellite of Uranus and a satellite of Neptune, the existence of hydrogen atoms in inter stellar space and evidence for the seasonal variation of water vapor on Mars.


Leander McCormick Observatory*
Charlottesville, Virginia

This observatory contains a 26-inch Alvan Clark refractor that has contributed to thousands of parallax determinations essential for establishing the first mileposts out into the galaxy.


Last Modified: Mon, Nov 5 2001 8:00:00 pm PDT

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