Darling Observatory

From Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood, copyright © 2011, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota. Image: Duluth Public Library.

910 West 3rd Street
Architect: Richard Schmidt
Built: 1917 | Lost: ca. 1970

Darling Observatory. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

When John H. Darling retired as an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1913, he turned his full attention to his hobby: astronomy. In 1917 he privately funded the Darling Observatory on West Third Street atop Duluth’s Point of Rocks, roughly 325 feet above the lake. The stucco building featured a nineteen-foot dome. Its telescope, mounted on solid bedrock, had a nine-inch, 261-pound refracting lens with a focal length of 130 feet; Darling designed some of its components himself. The observatory included a lecture room that seated up to twenty, and Darling regularly conducted public sessions lasting up to three hours. Over 16,000 people visited the observatory in 1930.

When Darling died in 1942, he willed the observatory to the city of Duluth with a trust fund of $20,000 to continue operation. Public viewing continued until 1956 under the direction of Darling’s assistant, noted UFO enthusiast Frank A. Halstead. In 1965 the University of Minnesota Duluth took control of the observatory. The telescope was moved to the UMD campus and the building, which had been repeatedly vandalized, was demolished. The land on which the observatory stood is now Observation Park and the telescope is on display at UMD.