Prior to 1996 observing sessions were held on the roof of Rhodes Hall. Telescopes had to be manually carried up the stairs and onto the roof. Only the Moon, brighter planets, and a few stars could be observed. When Dempster Hall was constructed, the tall parking lot lights towered above the roof line and made observing nearly impossible.
Funding from the Physics department alumni and matching funds from the College of Science and Mathematics were used to build a small observatory on the University Farm located across from Old Mckendree Cemetery. With help from family, faculty, students, and the department technician, a small portable warehouse was insulated, wired and finished inside to act as a control room. Three roll off sheds were designed which housed the telescopes. Once completed, the observatory serviced the 240 students from the astronomy class and several groups from the community each year.
In 2007 the department was informed that the observatory would be evicted from the current location because the University was turning the farm into a technology park. Pledges were made to use Departmental and College funds to move the observatory to the new University farm in Gordonville but it has been four years with no action. Being nearly 15 years old the observatory’s structure was in need of repairs and in 2010 use was discontinued because of safety issues.
Students and the community currently do not have any observing facilities to witness the natural wonders of the universe. Even though the class size has increased to 320 students per year progress towards moving to the new site remains stagnant.
The observatory is located on the University Farm on County Road 620. It has several optical telescopes, the largest being 12 inches in diameter, along with CCD cameras and a control room. It also has a 6-foot diameter radio dish. The Observatory primarily supports the astronomy course, PH109 Exploring the Universe, but it is also used for undergraduate research as well.
From the I55 exit #99, proceed west toward Jackson (Figure A). Just as the divided highway ends, turn right onto Orchard Rd. This turns into a gravel road and then ends at a stop sign. Turn left and the observatory is about 1/4 mile on the right on a hill (Figure B).