Cincinnati Observatory – Cincinnati, Ohio - Atlas Obscura
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Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati Observatory

This humble star-gazing center touts itself as the "Birthplace of American Astronomy." 

Possibly the oldest professional observatory in America, located atop Cincinnati’s aptly named hill, Mt. Lookout, has been showing people the stars since 1873, but not always on the same hilltop.

The Cincinnati Observatory was first built in 1843 after the efforts of Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, a professor who was enthusiastic about bringing astronomy to the masses. The facility was originally built atop what was known at the time as Mount Ida, and its cornerstone was placed to the pomp and circumstance of a speech from then-president John Quincy Adams. Unfortunately the president was not long for the world and the observatory’s inauguration would turn out to be his last public speech, leading to the entire hill being renamed Mt. Adams.  

Regardless of the president’s demise, the observatory continued to thrive, as did the city of Cincinnati. In fact the city around Mt. Adams became so bustling that the pollution began to obscure the sky around the observatory, making the spot much less ideal for star-gazing. Thus in 1873, the entire operation was picked up and move to the top of Mt. Lookout where it could escape the various pollutants that were mucking up their readings. Over the decades following the move, the telescopes were upgraded. along with many of the other facilities. Yet by the 1980s, the facility had fallen into disrepair. Thanks to the efforts of astronomer Paul Nohr, the telescopes were refurbished.

By the 2000s the observatory had shifted its focus from research to education. However, the observatory is still in use today after a multi-million dollar revamp. Today, after well over a century of operation, they proudly tout themselves as the “Birthplace of American Astronomy.”