Archives Photograph Collection

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Indiana University's first observatory and transit house.

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The view seen here is from the west looking east. The western side of Owen Hall can just barely be seen through the trees at right. The observatory and transit house seen here were located at the western end of Dunn Meadow. In 1910 or 1911 they were moved to where Woodburn Hall is located today (2014). See page 172 of the 1911 Arbutus yearbook for an image of the domed structure being moved. Both buildings were apparently dismantled in 1928. Based on the primary source documents listed below it is difficult to say which of the two buildings were constructed first (by April 1895, with the second seemingly being completed by late February or early March of 1899). However, it does seem that the building at right may have been the first of the two buildings to be constructed. The difficulty arises when one attempts to reconcile dates and the terms "telescope house", "observatory", "small frame building" and even "transit house". Note: which ever building was completed first, both, based on the documents below, are referred to as a "small frame building". It should also be noted that no mention can be found of these two buildings in the minutes of the Board of Trustees nor in the President's Reports for 1896-1899. The first mention of any kind of an observatory in the President's Report appears on page 12 of the November 1899 report, but this is the beginning of a discussion for what would become Kirkwood Observatory (entries for "Telescope" and "Observatory" in the minutes of the IU Board of Trustees beginning in November 1899 (page 55) all regard Kirkwood Observatory). From page 19 of The Indiana University Catalogue, with announcements and calendar for the 1895-1896 school year (published April 1895), in full: "Observatory. A small frame building has been fitted up as an observatory for the use of students in Astronomy. It contains a Browning Equatorial Telescope of 4-1/2-inch objective." The Indiana University catalogues, with announcements and calendars for the school years of 1896-97, 1897-98, and 1898-99 have the same, or virtually the same statement. An October 14, 1898 bill signed "S. C. Curry" for "...building telescope house $75.00..." and docketed with: "Paid Oct. 15/98". An undated document docketed with "Paid 25 Feb. 1899" from "Jno Miller" [Professor John A. Miller] to "Prof. Swain", in full: "Will you kindly give Mr. Curry $75 in part payment for observatory. The building is practically finished." A February 15, 1899 document which appears to be a request for payment for S. C. Curry shows a $105 entry for "furnishing materials & making telescope house", a $5 entry for "extra work", a $75 subtraction entry for "Cash" [previous payment] that is docketed "Feb. 25", making a grand total of an amount that is still to be paid of $35. Also according to this document it appears Mr. Curry was paid on March 7, 1899. According to page 20 of the May 1899 edition of "The Alumnus", in full: "The observatory is a small frame building. It contains a Browning equatorial telescope of four inches aperture, and two small photographic instruments. The transit house is provided with a sidereal chronometer, and a Bamberg portable transit mounted on a brick pier." From page 35 of The Indiana University Catalogue, with announcements and calendar for the 1899-1900 school year (published [April] 1900), in full: "Two small frame buildings in the northwest corner of the campus are being fitted up for the practical work of the Department of Astronomy." From page 40 of The Indiana University Catalogue, with announcements and calendar for the 1900-1901 school year (published April 1900), in full: "In the northwest corner of the campus [Dunn Meadow] are two small buildings erected for the use of the classes in Astronomy. These buildings are essentially temporary. The trustees have recently appropriated money for a twelve-inch telescope, to receive which a suitable observatory [Kirkwood Observatory] will be erected in the southwestern part of the campus." Finally, on page 484 of James Woodburn's History of Indiana University he quotes Professor Wilbur Cogshall about the first observatory, in part: "The dome in question stood in the corner of the campus directly south of the Sigma Chi house when I came to the University in 1900. It contained the original telescope owned by the University, a 4-inch, made in England. We used this telescope there for a few years, and then, at the request of the neighbors who didn't appreciate the artistic qualities of the building, it was moved farther east to a point where the new School of Business now stands...and another square addition with a sliding roof was constructed to house a reflecting telescope. The building was not very good at the best; the dome had to be moved by hand power, and plenty of it; the shutter was off the track frequently...I do not know just when it was built, but sometime before 1900 it was moved to the Seventh and Indiana avenue site by Professor John A. Miller. Before that it had been out on the southeastern edge of town on some privately owned ground, for how long I do not know." NOTE: The first mention of a telescope in the IU Catalogue can be found on page 52 of the Fifty-Sixth Annual Catalogue of the Indiana University (with announcements and calendar for the 1886-1887 school year, and published in 1886). The mention comes under the Astronomy section, in part: "General course, giving a popular outline of the subject; observations with equatorial telescope." This image appears on page 1 of the October 10, 1903 edition of The Daily Student (a.k.a. The Indiana Daily Student). This image appears on page 13 of the October 1948 issue of the Indiana Alumni Magazine. This image appears on page 9 of a booklet titled "Indiana University Bloomington" published in March 1900.

date taken:


copyright owner:

Indiana University

building name:

Observatory and Transit House (First)

corporate name:

Astronomy, Department of


Astronomical observatories







other place name:

Dunn Meadow


Buildings & Grounds