Leander McCormick Observatory

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Leander McCormick Observatory, on Mt. Jefferson at the University of Virginia, Circa 1915-1928

The McCormick Observatory opened in 1885 as a research facility at the University of Virginia. Philanthropist Leander McCormick bequeathed enough funds to pay for the observatory, which had been originally planned by Thomas Jefferson. The McCormick Observatory is one of the astronomical observatories operated by the Department of Astronomy of the University of Virginia. Construction—atop Observatory Mountain (now renamed Mt. Jefferson) began in 1882 and was completed in 1884. The great 26-inch telescope was finally ready for use in the in the spring of 1885. The observatory was dedicated in 1885, on Jefferson's birthday (April 13th).

This Observatory is memorable as possessing the first large dome made by Warner and Swasey. Also, for the first time in this country, electricity was applied to the illumination of the circles and micrometer of the great refractor.

In 1910 the facility was used to track Halley's Comet. [1]

From 1914 until the early 1990s, the main telescope was used to measure stellar distances; by the end of the project, twenty-five percent of all measured star distances had been calculated using the McCormick telescope.

As light pollution from Charlottesville began to increase, the University of Virginia moved most of its research to a new observatory at Fan Mountain. Today, the McCormick Observatory is used for introductory and public programs; it is fully functioning with mostly original hardware and furnishings. The observatory is open to the public on the first and third Friday of the month for viewings of the night sky.

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The observatory is one of the oldest in the world, and as of April 2010 is undergoing renovation. [2].

Apprentice astronomers

  • Charles Pollard Olivier (b. 1884 – d. 1975) was an American astronomer, notable for his contributions to the study of meteors, double stars and variable stars. Charles founder of the American Meteor Society. Born in Charlottesville, he became an assistant in 1910 and a Vanderbilt fellow at the observatory in 1905.


  1. Web. Growing Fainter, Staff Reports, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, May 30, 1910, retrieved May 30, 2016 from University of Virginia Library.
  2. Web. McCormick Observatory Gets New Look for Birthday, Daily Progress, Media General, April 13, 2010, retrieved March 25, 2021.

External links

Official site