The Astronomy and Astrophysics National Historic Landmark Theme Study was prepared by the National Park Service for the National Park System Advisory Board as part of the National Historic Landmarks Program. The purpose of the study is to identify the sites, structures, buildings and objects significant in the history of the sciences of astronomy and astrophysics in the United States. Those properties nominated for National Historic Landmark designation in this study will be evaluated by the National Park System Advisory Board, a committee of scholars and other citizens. The Board will then recommend to the Secretary of the Interior the properties, which in its opinion, should be designated as National Historic Landmarks. The decision to designate or not designate a recommended property rests with the Secretary. A complete explanation of the purpose of the National Historic Landmarks Program and regulations of the program can be found in the appendix to this study.
The subject of astronomy was first covered by the National Park Service as part of Volume XX of the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings report, The Arts and Sciences: Scientific Discoveries and Inventions, 1964. The sites related to the history of the science of astronomy that were examined for designation under this theme were:
At the 51st meeting of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments in 1964, the following sites were recommended for designation as National Historic Landmarks.
The board recommended that all action on the following observatories and on other sites related to the development of astronomy be deferred until a thorough study of the subject was made.
Consideration of all the other sites discussed in the theme study was also deferred.
At the 53rd meeting of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments in 1965, the Lowell Observatory was reconsidered and recommended for designation as a National Historic Landmark.
In 1975 the National Park Service, as part of a revision of the Science and Invention Theme Study, recommended the designation of the Edwin Hubble House in California as a National Historic Landmark. The Hubble House was designated in 1976.
In 1987 the National Park Service began a comprehensive study of observatories and other sites significant in the development of the history of astronomy in the United States. This study was soon expanded to include the related science of astrophysics. At that time only two properties, the Lowell Observatory and the Edwin P. Hubble House, were listed in the National Park Service publication, History and Prehistory in the National Park System and the National Historic Landmarks Program as landmarks significant in the science of astronomy.
In reviewing for this theme study I consulted Vol. XX of the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings Survey report, The Arts and Sciences: Scientific Discoveries and Inventions, 1964, and the general files and records of the National Historic Landmarks program. In addition, I reviewed properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These sources yielded the following properties for consideration under this theme.
Additional sites, including the new Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, the Palomar Observatory in California, Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, the Dearborn Observatory in Illinois, and the Horn Antenna in New Jersey, were suggested by historians of astronomy and included on my initial study list. Further reading in the field of astronomy resulted in the inclusion of many additional sites, such as the Leander McCormick Observatory in Virginia, the McDonald Observatory in Texas, Sacramento Peak Observatory in California and the Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona. In all, more than 100 sites, including laboratories, workshops, homes and sites associated with the lives and achievements of famous American astronomers, were included on my additional study list.
The subject of Prehistoric American Indian Astronomy (Archaeoastronomy) was not included within the framework of this theme study. The sites and issues involved in this discipline require the skills of a trained archeologist/anthropologist with a knowledge of astronomy and should be studied as a separate theme study.
In order to be recommended for designation as a National Historic Landmark a potential site must possess national significance in the history of the development of the sciences of astronomy or astrophysics in the United States. This significance can be demonstrated by the association of the property with some important event in the history of astronomy or through its association with the life of an important individual who has made a significant contribution to the science of astronomy. A full listing of these criteria can be found in the regulations of the National Historic Landmarks Program (36 CFR 65) in the appendix to this report.
From the initial study list of more than 100 properties, a total of 25 were actually visited. Of this total, 16 properties are recommended for designation as National Historic Landmarks. One site, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, was included to represent the science of meteorology. No other sites representing the science of meteorology were studied.
Many of the properties not recommended for landmark designation are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places or are believed to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Other sites were not recommended for designation for a variety of reasons that are discussed in the sections at the end of this theme study. A short summary of those sites recommended for designation under this theme follows on the next page. A complete listing of all other properties examined but not recommended for designation can be found at the end of this study.