The Donation of the McCormick Observatory
Leander McCormick visited Charlottesville in October 1877 and viewed
the campus at UVA and on December 17, 1877 McCormick made an official
offer to the University of Virginia. He offered to contribute the
telescope, valued at $50,000 and an additional $18,000 for the
building if the University could produce equal funds for the building
and staff. After three years of fundraising, Professor Charles Venable
announced that with the assistance of $25,000 from William
H. Vanderbilt (the son of Commodore Vanderbilt) and numerous
alumni donations, the University raised $75,000.
The telescope's formal dedication took place on Thomas Jefferson's birthday, April 13, 1885. The complete detailing of the inauguration ceremony can be found in Jeffersonian Republican, April 15, 1885. The ceremony took place on that Monday evening in the Public Hall at the University, filled with numerous distinguished guests, including men of science, business and government. Charles M. Blackford, President of the Society of the Alumni, acted as master of ceremonies and Professor Asaph Hall from the United States Naval Observatory served as the keynote speaker. Prof. Hall's address gave a brief history of the telescope and modern astronomy, placing the significance of the McCormick telescope in the context of a booming scientific era. Blackford spoke of "the germ of Mr. Jefferson's creation" having reached fruition. Leander McCormick was unable to attend, but sent a letter with Col. Venable, which was presented after Prof. Hall's address. In it, McCormick expressed joy at the completion of the observatory and entrusted the Rector and Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia with its care. Venable concluded with a few words of his own, "And long may this temple to the Queen of all science crown the summit of yonder mountain. May many a silent watcher of the skies under its lofty dome, pluck from the stary ether a crown of lasting fame and his hand in honor sown the centuries the name of the generous founder who has built so well."