Whitefield's First Astronomy Aficionado

    Jonathan Young Scammon, oldest son of Eliakim Scammon, Whitefield's First Selectman, became one of the wealthiest and most influential men in America. He arrived in Chicago when it had about the same population as his hometown, Whitefield.

   Young (as he was known),  had become an attorney back here in Maine and was virtually the first lawyer to apply his craft in, the soon to be booming, Chicago.

   (Skipping for the time being the stories of his fame (
newspaper owner (3), founder of the University, banker, railroad owner (3), hospital founder, founder of Chicago Historical Society, friend of Abraham Lincoln, aggressive proponent of free education in this frontier town etc, etc, etc).)

 Scammon donated the money for the observatory tower and dome at Chicago. The lens was installed in 1864, and the facility was named for Scammon’s late wife, Mary Ann Haven Dearborn (from Bath), a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Henry  Dearborn, Jefferson's Secretary of War, for whom Fort Dearborn was named.

The Dearborn Observatory was founded by citizens of Chicago by volunteer contributions. These men had confidence in the commercial future of their city, and strove to keep her standing in learning abreast of her commercial progress. The foundation of the Observatory and the erection there of a great telescope was one expression of their desire that their city should contribute her share to the results of scientific research.

The movement formally started in 1862, when the Reverend M.R. Forey came to Chicago to effect the sale of a 16-inch Fitz refractor and incidentally delivered a lecture, "The Sideral Heavens", on Dec. 8, 1862. A committee composed of prominent Chicago citizens was appointed after the lecture to carry out the plan of building an observatory in Chicago. The Chicago Astronomical Society was organized permanently in 1865 & incorporated in 1867. But as a group of responsible men earnestly concerned with the intellectual progress of their city, it really existed even before the date of Reverend Forey's lecture.

After the decision of Dec. 8,1862, further progress followed promptly. Because there was some doubt as to the reliability of the Fitz refractor, a representative was dispatched to Ann Arbor, Michigan for consultation. It was there they learned of the availability of an 18˝ inch lens in the shop of it's maker, Alvan Clark & Sons, of Cambridgeport, Mass. This lens had originally been ordered by the University of Mississippi, but the outbreak of the Civil War prevented the transaction from being completed. Under highly dramatic circumstances, the Chicago society purchased the 18˝-inch lens on Jan.10, 1863, for $11,187.00. ($186,261.32 in 2001 dollars.)

Three weeks later, on the evening of Jan.31, 1863, while testing the new lens at their Cambridgeport shops, the Clarks made the chance discovery of the faint companion to the star Sirius. In 1844 the great Bessel at Konigsberg, Germany, had predicted from variable proper motion of Sirius that it must have another disturbing body of considerable mass revolving with it. (In recent years the evidence has been accumulating that this faint star has the astonishing mean density of around 50,000 times the density of water. A piece of this material as large as an ordinary safety match box would weigh one and 2/3 tons!) One can easily imagine the thrill which the members of the Society in Chicago must have felt when news of this discovery reached them. Their lens had already distinguished itself above all other lenses then in use.

Later in 1863, the Society placed the 18˝inch lens and it's mounting (also made by the Clarks, at a cost of $7000 ($116,548.61 in 2001 dollars )) in the charge of the old University of Chicago (1857-1886). One of the leading spirits in the Society, Whitefield's  Scammon donated the money for a suitable tower and dome to house the telescope.

Scammon also paid the salary of  Mr. Truman H. Safford as the first Director of the Dearborn Observatory & Professor of Astronomy in the University. In the next five years he entered upon several major programs of observation, and carried them forward with vigor until the Chicago Fire on Oct.9, 1871.

extracted in part from http://www.chicagoastro.org/pages/history.html

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