Located at Kenosha’s Kemper Center, 6501 Third Ave., the Griffin Observatory allows adventurers to see the universe from a historic setting, using modern technology. Following a four-year renovation, the 19th century astronomy laboratory has taken on new life as a stargazing, teaching and recreation facility.
The Griffin Observatory welcomes students, astronomers, clubs, and corporate groups for daytime and evening activities that educate and inspire. To schedule a tour, event or viewing session, call 262-657-6005.
Astronomy Pioneers: A History of the Kemper Center Observatory
In the 1890s, public schools didn’t emphasize science education, especially not for women. At Kemper Hall, a private girls’ school, an emphasis on the natural sciences was uniquely central to the curriculum. One of the school’s most impressive features was the observatory, built especially for instruction in astronomy.
The 25-foot-tall octagon structure, topped by a massive copper dome, was perched on a tower, accessed by a four-story spiral staircase. The dome was rotated manually, and the shutter opened to the sky by a rope and pulley system.
Four years in the making, the new observatory incorporates modern technology while preserving the historic ambiance. Central to the project was the removal of the original copper dome and the construction of a new, replica copper-covered dome.
Hundreds of roof elements were hand shaped by a historical carpenter and shipwright working with steam-bent wood and resin composites. The dome now operates with a computer-controlled rotational mechanism and two shutters, allowing ready observation and tracking from horizon to zenith.
A new ventilation system makes year-round observation possible by matching the inside temperature with that of the outside, minimizing viewing distortion. New flooring and a telescope mounting pedestal allow 360-degree rotational visibility without causing vibration.
The restoration also includes a new sky-deck observation area on the roof adjacent to the observatory, and new classroom space for remote observation.
Housed within the observatory is a new 11” Celestron telescope on a precision AstroPhysics 900GT mount, controlled by computer. It allows accurate tracking of astronomical objects and can be viewed from classroom and demonstration areas onsite, as well as remotely via the World Wide Web.