Darling Observatory

The Darling Observatory that stood at 910 West Third Street from 1912 to 1965. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)
910 West 3rd Street | Architect: Richard Schmidt | Built: 1917 | Lost: ca. 1970

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 and built it on a corner of Observation Park, which had been established in 1910 on property informally known as Emerson Playground after  the nearby elementary school. 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. Today the telescope is on display at UMD.