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Boswell Observatory, built in 1883, is the oldest extant operating observatory west of the Missouri River. The building is also the oldest building on the Doane College campus, since the college's 1879 Merrill Hall succumbed to fire in 1969. Boswell Observatory has had continued maintenance over the years to ensure its preservation. In 1995, the building underwent restoration of the revolving dome in the scope room housing the original 1884 equatorial telescope. This 8-inch objective lens was made by renowned lens maker Alvan Clark of Massachusetts.
The construction of the observatory was made possible by a $5,000 gift from Connecticut philanthropist Charles Boswell. College founder Colonel Thomas Doane, chief civil engineer for the Burlington Missouri River Railroad, first president David Brainerd Perry, and science professor Goodwin D. Sweezey designed the building after visiting several observatories in New England. An addition was made in 1892 to house expanded weather science equipment and to serve as a small classroom. Boswell Observatory, under the direction of Professor Sweezey, was the first home of the Nebraska Signal Service Office, National Weather Service from 1884 to 1894.
The building is in good condition and has retained its historic and architectural integrity. Housed in the building are several pieces of 19th and early 20th century science equipment relating to astronomy, weather recording, time keeping, and surveying. Doane's original inland time ball, once mounted on Merrill Hall and operated by a clock in the observatory, is also on exhibit.
The observatory was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 along with Gaylord Hall (1884) and Whitcomb Conservatory/Lee Memorial Chapel (1906-07) as "the Doane College Historic District" for significance in Architecture, Education, Science and Music.