Dyer Observatory is not the first observatory of Vanderbilt University. Pictured above is Barnard Observatory, one of the first four buildings constructed on the main Vanderbilt University campus in the 1870s and eventually named in honor of Nashville’s own Edward Emerson Barnard. Housed inside of the large central dome was a six-inch refractor made by Cooke & Sons of York, England, which was eventually mounted on top of the Stevenson Science Center and then moved to Dyer Observatory where it is currently on display. Construction of the observatory (where Rand Hall currently stands) was finished in 1876, and it remained there until 1952. Commemorating the observatory is an armillary sphere, which is perched just outside of Rand Hall atop a base constructed from the bricks of the original observatory. What happened to the remainder of the observatory? You can see the bricks for yourself at Dyer Observatory – they were used to construct Murial’s Retreat, Dyer Observatory’s director’s residence, in 1952. Dyer Observatory’s founder and first director, Dr. Carl K. Seyfert, lived there with his wife, Muriel Mussels Seyfert, and their two children, Carl Jr. and Gail Carol. Parts of the capstone have also been incorporated into Dyer Observatory’s large horizontal sundial.
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Tucked up among the wooded hilltops of northern Brentwood, Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is considered by many to be a hidden treasure of the area. Visitors to our satellite campus not only learn about some of the cutting-edge discoveries and science in astronomy but they also get a dose of nature, history, and many other things while here. Over the years, we at Dyer Observatory have made the preservation of our facility and grounds a key mission. Preservation not only entails things such as maintaining our telescopes — it also includes keeping a record of days passed. Since 1953, we have amassed a number of interesting images, pieces of equipment, and ephemera. Every day tends to bring new surprises. In continuing our tradition of public education and outreach, Stellar Finds regularly provides an image and description of the diverse paraphernalia associated with Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory and the history of astronomy at Vanderbilt University.