Where Was Dudley?

I get this question a lot.  Actually, I usually get “Where IS Dudley?”, which requires me to explain that we don’t have an observatory at the moment, but we’re working on it.  But after that, someone has to explain where the two Dudley Observatory buildings were.

Fortunately, because the Observatory’s  latitude and longitude needed to be known to a precise degree, it’s not difficult to pinpoint where the buildings originally stood.  Both observatories were major Albany landmarks, so they’re usually not hard to find on old maps.

The first Observatory was located on land donated by Stephen Van Rensselaer IV, plus a few bits and pieces purchased in the 1850’s from the neighbors.  It’s to the north of Albany, about where Arbor Hill Elementary stands today.  Thanks to the historic map overlay put together by the Albany Bagel Company a few years ago, we can show exactly where:

Left: 1877 map  Right: 2016 Google map

Left: 1877 map
Right: 2016 Google map

The 1877 map also clearly shows the railroad line that forced Lewis Boss to abandon the original building.  When the observatory was opened, there wasn’t enough rail traffic for it to matter.  But by the 1870’s and 80’s, the steady stream of locomotives passing nearby caused enough vibration that it wrecked the calibration of the telescopes.  There was also the occasional puff of smoke that entered the observatory building.  All in all, it’s not surprising that the building burned down after it was abandoned.

The unofficial name for the rise on which the observatory sat was “Goat Hill,” because the the large number of feral goats that grazed on it.  One of the astronomers, Richard Hawley Tucker, wrote that, “There are hundreds of them in the neighborhood.”  In a letter to his mother he explained that they were, “taking advantage of the somewhat dilapidated condition of our fences and our own devotion to higher pursuits they come in crowds.  Prof [Lewis Boss] has a pistol with which he peppers them with fine shot, and usually he only needs to shout to make them scamper.”  Never let it be said that astronomers don’t know how to have fun.

More on the second observatory in another post.

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