The Yerkes Observatory sets itself apart in the Wisconsin village of Williams Bay. Set on 77 acres, the massive structure is well off the highway yet also back from the Geneva Lake lakefront. It is the only undeveloped (non-residential) lakefront property.
The dome structure establishes itself as a place worth seeing by its broad, visible presence in the landscape. Each Saturday morning, the “birthplace of modern astrophysics,” opens its doors for public tours that feature three areas: Yerkes role in astronomy, the Yerkes architecture and the history of its development, including the philanthropy and tainted motivation of Charles Yerkes. Yerkes, among other things, developed the “L” train system notable in Chicago.
Another note for tour guides is the role of astronomer George Hale, whose boyhood interests blossomed over many years and led to the observatory’s development as a world leader.
The architecture includes references to people embedded in the columns and to ways of the times it was built, 1895-97. One notable item is a form of swastika, which in that time period was a symbol in some religions meaning good fortune.
The 40-inch refractor telescope continues in use as do other telescopes at the site that is part of the University of Chicago. As you might expect, advances in astronomy led to other places around the world taking lead roles, though this facility remains active, one used by the university and made available to other groups.
I found an area connection during a short visit, on which I’ll elaborate in a post later this week.