Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Boswell Observatory

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Institution Name: Doane College
Original/Historic Place Name: Boswell Observatory
Location on Campus: east of the intersection of Boswell Ave. and 10th St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1883original construction Doane, Thomas Perry, David Brainerd Swezey, Goodwin D.
1892addition Unknown
1995restoration of the revolving dome in the scope room Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: limestone
Walls: brick
Roof: wood shingle (original); asphalt (current); shaped metal
ca. 1883classroom
1883-present (2007)faculty office (astronomy professor)
1883-present (2007)observatory
ca. 2004-present (2007)museum

Significance: architecture, education
Landmark designation:
National RegisterDoane College Historic Buildings (1977)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

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.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Brown, Fred D. Doane College. New York: Newcomen Society of the United States, 2003.

Jeffries, Janet L. "Gentility on the Prairie, Urbanization and Refinement in Crete, Nebraska, 1871-1891." M. A. thesis, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 1996.

Murphy, D. Doane College Historic Buildings. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.

Perry, Thomas D., ed. History of Doane College 1872-1912. Crete, NE: Doane College, 1957.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office, Unknown
—details: Archives, Perkins Library, Doane College, Crete, NE.
Government Offices
Other: Library of Congress Archives.Benne Memorial Museum

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Last update: November 2006