Counting Questions: Dudley Observatory FAQ

To start off, I thought I would use this space to answer some of the most common questions that I receive on the exhibit floor:

Where is the Observatory?

Funny story about that. We’re actually an observatory without an observatory.

During the sixties and the space race, Dudley Observatory shifted away from astronomical observation and focused on lab research of things like micrometeorites. At the time, that was where the money was. The shift meant the telescopes went away and the microscopes came out. At that point the observatory was located on the corner of South Lake Ave. and New Scotland, where the Psychiatric Center of Albany Medical College is currently. Lacking a need for the building, Dudley sold it to Albany Med in the late sixties. It burned down in 1970, and you can see photos of this in the Times Union archive. The remains were destroyed and the CDPC was built on the site.

Since then, Dudley has been without an observatory. We still have most of our old telescopes and other equipment, and those are in storage with the miSci collections. We hope to build a small observatory on the greenspace beside the miSci building and reconstruct one of our major telescopes for installation there.

Who was Charles Dudley?

Charles Edward Dudley (1780-1841) was an Albany merchant and politician. He served in the State Senate and the US Senate, and was twice mayor of Albany. His wife, Blandina Bleeker Dudley, survived him and donated a large sum of money towards the building of the Observatory.

Did he have any connection to astronomy?

Supposedly he had an amateur’s interest in astronomy, but it didn’t leave a mark on history. He’s most famous for being a member of Martin Van Buren’s Albany Regency.

The Albany what?

Real quick: when Martin van Buren was elected for the US Senate in 1821, he worried about leaving New York in the hands of his opponents. So he organized a group of friends and allies to keep running things while he went to Washington, and this turned out to be much more effective than anyone probably expected. The group, which quickly included Charles Dudley, voted and organized as a unit and handed out patronage to loyal members. In short, the Regency was America’s first political machine.

What telescopes do you have?

Our major telescope right now is the 12″ refractor, purchased from the company of John A. Brashear in Pittsburgh with money from the Pruyn family. This is the one we’re hoping to set up in a new observatory. We also still have the trunk of our original Meridan Circle, named after the banker Thomas Olcott. This one is damaged and incomplete, but hopefully we can put it on display. Our most famous telescope is the Clarke Comet Seeker, currently on display in the gallery, which has found two comets and an asteroid. We also have several antique brass telescopes, including a Pistor & Martins and two Bardou’s.

What is your connection to Union College?

In the 1870s, both Union and Dudley were part of an attempt to create a full university out of various institutions in Albany, including Albany College of Pharmacy, Albany Law and Albany Med. This federation of institutions still exists, but it isn’t very active. Beyond that, Union Archives and Special Collections houses our collection of rare astronomical texts, including first editions of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

If you have any questions, you are more than welcome to ask them at, or check out the Dudley Facebook Page.