The Joseph R. Grundy Observatory is the astronomical observatory at Franklin & Marshall College, in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This page serves as a record for the restoration and revitalization project called Grundy 2.0.
It was on the frigid, dark night of the 18th of February 2013 when I first visited the Grundy Observatory. I was a freshman at Franklin & Marshall College in my second semester there. My house advisor had noted my interest in astronomy, and told me about the existence of an observatory near campus. We subsequently planned a trip for house members to go. The building was not a dome — that was my first observation of the visit. The flat brick building is situated obscurely on Baker Field, a baseball practice field which is a five minute drive from the F&M campus. There was a glowing red light emanating from the building, which houses two telescopes — a long metal tube composing an old refracting telescope, and a sleeker and more modern reflecting telescope. You could see the front of the longer refractor sticking out of the building on the walk up to the door.
After entering into the observing room, the operator of the facility, Edward Cook, was there to greet us and explain how to operate the instrumentation. After first experiencing the power of these modest but effective tools, I seized on an opportunity I knew I had to take. I asked if I could be trained there — the rest was history for me.
During my regular training with Ed, I began to learn more about the observatory, and realized it was more extensive — both in history and in construction. I also noticed the poor conditions it was left in from abandonment — mold on the old astronomical almanacs, dirty optics, and leaking ceilings. Even the primary scopes needed major work.
I made a choice in my mind to restore the observatory to clean and working order, and to revitalize interest in the facility for both student research and continued public outreach. Thus was born project dubbed Grundy 2.0.
Professor Kershner of the F&M mathematics department first suggested the construction of a campus observatory in 1880. Concern about the state of the sciences was rising at F&M. With the support and enthusiasm of the Board of Trustees, Kershner was made head of the mathematics department and was given the responsibility of planning for the observatory. On January 21, 1884, Mrs. James Hood donated $10,000, which was used to build the Daniel Scholl Observatory on F&M’s campus, in memory of her father. Professor Kershner brought in the high quality instrumentation, and the observatory was opened in September of 1886. In 1966, the Daniel Scholl Observatory was knocked down and relocated to Baker Field. It was renamed Joseph R. Grundy Observatory in 1971. The Grundy Foundation of Philadelphia funded the $100,000 project. Senator Joseph R. Grundy was a well-known leader and public figure in the realms of politics and business. In Pennsylvania, he led the Republican Party in state affairs for more than 30 years until his retirement in 1947. He died March 3, 1961 at 98 years old.
The observatory is presently home the home of an 1884 11” Clark-Repsold refracting telescope and a 16” Boller and Chivens reflecting telescope. At one point, it also included a Seth Thomas Precision Clock, which is presently on display in the F&M Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratories. During Grundy’s peak activity, astronomy classes were held there and it was the center for astronomical research. Students were able to interact with the Lancaster community during Public Observing Nights, during which the public was invited to come and partake in the exploration of the night sky. In the 1980s, after the construction of the observing deck atop of the Hackman Physical Sciences building, the observatory fell into a decrepit state. It molded over, and its structural issues became bad enough to form the focus of a lawsuit.
The first steps toward revitalization were especially critical because of the neglected state of the observatory. Present in the warm room were bookshelves and old astronomical almanacs all ridden with mold. We produced dehumidifcation boxes for the books and sent them to the college archives for preservation. The bookshelves were moldy as well, and were subsequently removed from the building.
Internet was thus allowed to be installed for public use since the mold problem was effectively mitigated. Installation of an internet connection was crucial to expanding outreach and research activities on the site.
In May 2013 an effort was made in the Department of Physics and Astronomy to restore the Clark telescope, which had been affected by moisture problems and dirt. Ed and I were discussing earlier in the year that our first order of business was to get someone to clean the Clark. The department brought in John Augustine, an antique optical instrument specialist from Parkman, Ohio.
F&M's Historic Telescope Gets a Rare Cleaning — Peter Durantine (31 May 2013)
BOLLER AND CHIVENS RESTORATION
The Boller and Chivens telescope presented the most challenging aspect of the entire restoration project. It needed to be cleaned, albeit not as badly as the Clark telescope needed. With the guidance of Ed, we dismantled the telescope and cleaned its interior optics.
The telescope was completely analog and used a hand controller for slewing. With the help of Ed Cook, Steve Spadafore, and Elizabeth Praton, we completely reconsidered the telescope — from computerizing the mount to enhancing the rear optics for introducing a CCD camera. The Department purchased an SBIG ST-8300M CCD camera for their advanced labs, which I was permitted to use at the observatory on the Boller and Chivens telescope. I conducted the first series of CCD photometry at the observatory.
WARM ROOM DEVELOPMENT
Establishment of a functioning warm room was important for expanding student research into the observatory. Serial cables were already installed that ran from the Boller and Chivens telescope to the warm room. Using funding from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, as well as donations from students and members of the Astronomy Enthusiasts of Lancaster County, we installed a computer station, library, work area, supply cabinets, and cleaning supplies.
Outreach was previously a frequent and well-attended aspect of the observatory. At one time, there were public observing nights twice per month, and regular student attendance for their laboratory work. After construction of the observing deck on campus, student attendance and awareness dropped.
With the assistance of F&M Facilities and Operations, we were able to clear out the older desks in the classroom, and clean and paint the room. Then we installed newer tables along the perimeter of the room, each with computer stations donated from IT Services, that would be used for interactive learning during public observing nights.
Relationships were also established with the local Astronomy Enthusiasts of Lancaster County. I gave a presentation entitled Astronomy at F&M: Science Projects at Franklin & Marshall College which detailed how F&M is involved with astronomy, and also about the Grundy Observatory
I had the opportunity to work with Colin Williamson on generating student interest for astrophotography and projects that involved both science and art. We received a grant from the Committee on Grants at F&M, which we used to purchase a DSLR camera. We were able to implement a video feed from the Boller and Chivens to a digital monitor, and produced color astrophotography.
I was able to receive funding to purchase and install the William A. LaTourette weather station at the observatory (we nicknamed it "Al"). It is an Ambient Weather WS-1001-WiFi weather station linked to its own weather page at Weather Underground: KPALANCA37
The observatory also has its own Clear Sky Chart:
I established a student group at F&M that carried the project out of my hands and into those of younger students. I trained several students on operating the telescopes and planned future projects for developing research and outreach activities. With additional funding, the observatory could someday become a staffed and modern facility of scientific research and public education.