Wallpaper Wednesday

9 11 2011
McCormick Observatory

McCormick Observatory, University of Virginia

Today’s wallpaper features McCormick Observatory, located on Mt. Jefferson on the campus of the University of Virginia. The observatory is named after Leander J. McCormick, donor of the 26-inch astrometric refractor still housed under the dome of the building. Usually we see the names Warner & Swasey associated with the instruments (they designed the telescopes for the Kirkwood, Lick, University of Illinois, Theodor Jacobsen, and Yerkes Observatories, amongst others), but at University of Virginia, they were charged with the design of the original observatory dome, a first for the duo.[1] The dome was manually operated, but the track system provided for such an ease of motion that Warner & Swasey immediately applied for a patent for their design.[2] Construction work began in 1882; the observatory was formally dedicated on April 13, 1885.

In addition to the dome room, the original building included a wing that housed the calculating rooms and a bedroom. If you looked at the image above and thought that the building’s detailing looked more suited to a cathedral than an observatory, you would be right: the Medieval Renaissance windows and buttresses echo a similar motif used (more appropriately) on the University chapel.[3] The director’s house (now known as Alden House, or Observatory House #1) was also built in 1882, with additional funds supplied by McCormick.

To download wallpaper (standard sizes) of the above image, click here.


[1] Paul B. Barringer, James M. Garnett, and Rosewell Page, Eds., University of Virginia: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1904): 9.

[2] After searching the patent registry, I can only guess that they were trying to protect their design for the process of cutting teeth of gear wheels, Patent No. 333, 488.

[2] Richard Guy Wilson and Sarah A. Butler, University of Virginia: The Campus Guide (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999): 144.