The Construction of the McCormick Observatory
In 1881, the Board of Visitors appointed a committee to select a site
for the observatory and the committee selected the top of Mount Jefferson
later that year. After selecting the site, the committee began the
search for the observatory's new director. With McCormick's supervision,
they selected Ormond Stone from the Cincinnati
Observatory. Ormond Stone began as a professor at UVA in 1882 and began
astronomical work before the observatory was finished. The first
officially recorded observation was a transit of Venus observed by
Ormond Stone and Prof. Francis Smith in December 1882.
The Wilson Brothers of Philadelphia (noted for their design for the Reading
Terminal a decade later) built the remainder of the observatory,
completed with the telescope installed in 1884. The glass for the
lenses was cast by Chance & Co. of Birmingham, England in the
early 1870's. It was then shipped to Alvan Clark & Sons of
Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, who ground the lenses. The objective was
complete by 1877 at the latest, but remained in Cambridgeport until
the Leander McCormick finalized the donation, and the remaining funds were raised
by alumni of UVa (and from William
H. Vanderbilt). The telescope was sent to Charlottesville by railway
(with the objective traveling in first class). Upon arrival it was
carefully packed up to be carried up Mount Jefferson on horse-drawn wagons.
Scientific American in 1884 described the telescope as essentially like
the one at the United States
Naval Observatory in Washington, D. C. with a driving clock
resembling the one at Princeton
University. The finished observatory consisted of the dome and
computing rooms holding the library, clocks, chronographs, seismographs,
etc., and a room that served as a bedroom.
Construction of the director's house (now known as Alden House, after
the Observatory's third director Harold Alden)
began in 1882 along with the observatory. Leander McCormick provided
the additional funds to erect the director's house and a small house
for the janitor, after the endowment was all spent on the
observatory. Director Ormond Stone and his family lived in a four-room
frame cottage until the brick director's house was finished.
Charlottesville architect and contractor, George W. Spooner built the director's residence. There is evidence that Spooner's work was loosely based on designs drafted by Wilson Brothers of Philadelphia, who had also built the observatory. After a lengthy debate and a series of heated correspondences between Wilson Brothers and Stone, they turned down the director's house project. The house was completed and ready for habitation in the fall of 1883.