In 1909, Denison University Trustee Ambrose Swasey contributed the funding to build an observatory, which he also furnished with its original astronomical equipment. Built in 1919, the Warner and Swasey Observatory is a spectacular part of Cleveland, Ohio’s history. The abandoned Warner & Swasey Observatory, constructed by Worchester Warner and Ambrose Swasey stands on a knoll overlooking Taylor Road in East Cleveland, Ohio. Built of white Vermont marble, the interior was renovated and the outer dome was replaced in 1970.
History of Warner and Swasey Observatory
The Warner and Swasey Company was a leading manufacturer of machine tools, especially turret lathes, and telescopes, and optical equipment. The company was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1881 by Worcester R. Warner, who had a passionate interest in astronomy, and Ambrose Swasey.
Constructed in 1919, the observatory building was designed by local firm Walker and Weeks in what appears to be a Byzantine Revival Style. Initially consisting of only the smaller of the two telescope domes and a two-story support wing, the building was gifted to the Case Institute of Applied Science in 1920 by The Warner and Swasey Company.
The building continued to develop and expand over the years. In 1939, the new 24-inch Burrell Schmidt telescope was built and installed there. The Warner and Swasey Observatory was substantially expanded in 1941, adding the larger telescope dome to accommodate a larger, more powerful instrument, and an auditorium for academic lectures on astronomy.
The observatory was the site of groundbreaking research in the early 1950s, including one study that found that the Milky Way was a spiral galaxy. Unfortunately, by 1950 the growth of the nearby city was shining too much ambient light into the night sky and the telescope had to be moved into a new location. As a result, the university built a new site to house the Burrell Schmidt telescope, 30 miles east in Jeoug County. Today, this site is known as the Nassau station. Meanwhile, the Warner and Swasey Observatory was outfitted with a 36-inch telescope.
The astronomy program continued growing, and an enlargement of the library and office space were completed in 1963. The 36-inch telescope was used from 1957 to 1979. However, by the 1960’s Cleveland had grown so large that light pollution was starting to make nighttime observation difficult. In 1978, the Faculty of Astronomy signed an agreement to build a new observatory to house the telescope. It was once again transferred, this time to the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.
The Warner and Swasey Observatory was used as a public observatory and educational facility until it closed in 1980 due to a lack of funds, the folding of its main benefactor and namesake, and lack of interest in the facility from Case Western Reserve University and local residents. Since that time, the observatory has languished, and though there were proposals to turn it into a private residence, none have come to fruition, and over the past decade, scrappers and vandals have trashed the building, removing all valuable metals and the sheathing on the domes, and making a mess of the place. In 2005, real estate tycoon Naiir Al Mahdi purchased the derelict property. He wanted to build a luxurious residence on this site. These plans were put to a halt when the new owner was convicted of mortgage fraud and sent to prison in 2007.