Just shy of its 121st anniversary at Hiram College, the grand “Cooley Telescope” was removed October 7, 2022 from Stephens Memorial Observatory. The Warner and Swasey instrument, built in Cleveland, Ohio, was sold and has been transported to British Columbia, Canada, where its new owner will refurbish it for future reuse.
The observatory’s telescope was donated to Hiram College by Rev. Lathrop Cooley in 1901, and presented to the institution on October 25, on Rev. Cooley’s 80th birthday. The then research-grade Cooley Telescope was originally installed in a tower above what was the Teachout Library and Observatory. It remained there until a fire occurred in 1939 after which the telescope was removed and a new facility built. Stephens Observatory, the second Hiram home of the telescope, was the gift of Miss Ella M. Stephens in memory of her family.
Time and the elements have not been kind to either the telescope or the Stephens Memorial Observatory building. After a two-year closure waiting out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was found there were serious issues with the facility. College administration could not justify the expense of refurbishing the telescope, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, and the observatory building for many thousands of dollars more. In order to assure a future for the unique vintage astronomical instrument, it was sold. The fate of the observatory building has not yet been announced but it is likely to be demolished.
After disassembly of the telescope, a crane lifted its heavy mount and pier through the observation opening in the observatory’s dome. The components were loaded into a covered trailer and driven away to the telescope’s new home. Its new owner said that, once restoration is complete, he hopes the telescope will again be used to excite and inspire interest in astronomy.
Since spring 2006, I as the observatory’s director, have worked to preserve the telescope and provide positive visitor experiences there; that included providing assistance in finding it a new home. The facility was only lightly used for Hiram College instruction but regularly open to the public for astronomy outreach. In recent years nighttime programs were scheduled monthly for all but mid-winter months with an average attendance of 33 individuals. Some special events, such as the 2012 transit of Venus, drew far more people. Attendees of all ages enjoyed views through the 1901 vintage telescope and marveled at such sights as Jupiter with its cloud markings and Galilean moons and, especially, Saturn with its distinctive rings. Earth’s own Moon was also shown in spectacular fashion. The best nights were simply magical: time spent under the stars with people who truly appreciated the experience.
While the big telescope is gone, astronomy for Hiram students can continue. Three portable telescopes remain, owned by the Physics Department, and available for instructional activity and potentially student astronomy club use. The latest addition is a fine Dobsonian-mounted 10-inch Newtonian telescope donated by a Manua, Ohio resident in memory of his late father.
And so, goodbye and farewell to a wonderful old telescope, as it is reborn into another century of service to again enable the Earth-bound to, as Rev. Cooley said, “…climb the steep of heaven and walk among the stars.”
— James Guilford, Director, Stephens Memorial Observatory
This is heartbreaking, and also unexpected. I never heard anything about this through alumni channels. It doesn’t sit right with me that Hiram will no longer have a night sky program.