McCormick Observatory is named for Leander McCormick of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, who donated a 26-inch refracting telescope to the University of Virginia after Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) turned it down. Constructed in 1884, the observatory fulfilled Thomas Jefferson’s desire to include astronomy in the university’s curriculum. The observatory’s robust Romanesque Revival style illustrates the serious enthusiasm for advanced scientific study late in the 19th century. The round brick structure that houses the observatory’s dome room, which holds the telescope and rotates 360 degrees, was the first of its kind. Until satellite astronomy came into use in the 1980s and 1990s, the observatory’s telescope was responsible for fully one-third of the approximately 10,000 stars identified up to that time by astronomers worldwide. The brick Queen Anne/Eastlake-style Alden House of 1883, the observatory director’s home, is located just down the hill.
The Leander McCormick Observatory was first listed at a statewide level of significance in the registers. An updated nomination recommended a national level of significance along with a slightly extended period of significance from 1883 through 1956, due to the Observatory’s international benefits as recent as the 1990s.
[VLR Listed: 9/29/2006; NRHP Listed: 11/15/2006]
Many properties listed in the registers are private dwellings and are not open to the public, however many are visible from the public right-of-way. Please be respectful of owner privacy.
VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark