You are here

Washburn Observatory

-A A +A
1878–1882, David R. Jones. 1401 Observatory Dr.

Washburn Observatory, on the crest of Observatory Hill, commands an expansive view of the heavens above and a spectacular vista of Lake Mendota below. The Italianate building has a modest residential scale, using locally quarried sandstone blocks, chiseled with a vermiculated surface and laid with beaded mortar joints, above rock-faced stones at the foundation. The simple shed-roofed porch at the east and the octagonal bay window facing south seem domestic, but on the west, a wooden dome rising forty-eight feet identifies the building as an observatory. A large pediment, broken by a stylized Palladian window, marks the observatory’s entrance. Inside, a narrow wooden staircase ascends to the dome, where the original telescope remains. Constructed by Alvan Clark and Sons of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the refracting telescope was the country’s third-largest telescope when it was installed in 1879.

In its heyday, the observatory was a leading astronomical research center. It was here that Joel Stebbins and Albert Edward Whitford created the field of astronomical photoelectric photometry, which measures light from stars. The observatory, closed in 1959, opens its doors regularly for public stargazing.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
×

Data

What's Nearby

Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Washburn Observatory", [Madison, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-DA28.8.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 452-453.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.

, ,