Warner & Swasey Observatory – Cleveland, OH – Look to the Skies


Let’s now take a venture down Taylor Road of East Cleveland, about 4 miles from Case University. This hill of a road just off of Euclid Avenue once housed one of Cleveland’s great space observatories and schools; The Case School of Applied Science, or better known as ‘The Warner & Swasey Observatory.”

Built in 1919 by Worchester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey and donated to Case in 1920, the observatory which sat atop the hill looking out over a once thriving city housed a 9.5-inch refractor (currently known as ‘the rooftop telescope’) which it seems to be very popular and known for. This building, designed by Walker and Weeks came to house several more telescopes in later years as well as other instruments and sections such as the 24-inch Burrell Schmidt telescope, a transit room, a darkroom, bedroom and an office, along with an astronomical library and public lecture hall. Due to a rising of light pollution in Cleveland during the 1950’s, the study of our skies was made far more difficult leading to the creation of a new station which was built in Geauga County’s Montville Township. This station, named after Jason John Nassau initially operated the Burrell Schmidt Telescope, which was later moved to Kitt Peak National Observatory. In order to compensate for this movement, a 36-inch Cassegrain parabolic reflector was designed and installed at the Taylor Road location.




1978 rolled around and the Astronomy Department of Case Western Reserve University made a deal with Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) to build a newer observatory at Kitt Peak to house the Burrell Schmidt. In May of 1979 the telescope was moved from Ohio to Arizona, and quickly following in 1980 the 36-inch was moved from the Taylor Road location to the Nassau Station. No further astronomical work was to be done within the Taylor Road location leading to its faculty and resources being moved to the main campus of Case Western Reserve University in 1982. The Taylor road facility was soon after sold in 1983 and left abandoned, as a host to decay until some time in 2005 when it was bought by a couple to be converted into a residence. These plans were put to a halt when the new owner was convicted of mortgage fraud and sent to prison in 2007 but other sources say this had connections with a drug dealer.




The 9.5-inch refractor is now operated at the university’s University Circle campus, and the Burrell, at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. There have been important contributions to astronomical research made with these previously stated telescopes. A couple of exampled being as follows:

Jason Nassau, a past observatory director on the classification of carbon stars and M-type stars in 1949.

More recently, the Burrell Schmidt has been used to discover the galaxy of Andromeda VIII in 2003 and has also been used to image the intracluster light in the Virgo Supercluster. The intracluster light is a thousand times fainter than the night sky, and was observed after combining seventy images of the cluster which were taken with the Burrell Schmidt telescope. This bleak building was once used to further basic instruction and research in astronomy as it was donated for. The 24-36 inch was constructed by the Warner and Swasey company and donated in 1939 expanding the building along with not just the dome to house this but the auditorium as well. Later on, additional equipment was added such as four objective prisms, and a coarse objective grating, each of 24-inch aperture to be used with the Schmidt telescope. Photoelectric photometers, and astrophotometer for measuring stellar magnitudes on photographic plates were also obtained. A frequency control unit for driving the telescope accurately was also installed.





In 1963 the final additions were built onto the observatory towards the right side from the main entrance door. This included offices for faculty and students, additional library space, more darkroom and plate storage facilities, and a seminar room. This wing was declared the Walter J. Hamilton wing. We now step across ruins of history through this derelict observatory, crossing through the space once occupied by those studying, and observing the mysteries of the skies. The auditorium lies host to decay, and a crumbling ceiling towers over where students and staff once would gather to discuss astronomical discovery.




The chalk board which remains stationed at the front of the lecture hall is a double-sided one but we can never seem to get it to flip, let alone barely budge. I would really love to know what, if anything remains on the other side of this board. Until then it will remain a mystery just as itself may even contain mysteries of the universe. The domes which housed the telescopes are now empty, roofs stripped and torn; one barely hanging on. Old intercoms remain placed on the walls as if they have remained still, and untouched for 40 years. A thick layer of fallen debris in a main room had coated the floor which we had decided to start cleaning up as much as we could, uncovering the 12 Zodiac signs ordered in a circular pattern around the entire room’s floor. We will soon return to work more on this. One can only wander their mind as to what else we may find throughout its walls.





3 thoughts on “Warner & Swasey Observatory – Cleveland, OH – Look to the Skies

  1. Wow, I’m shocked to see these images. I used to run around this building as a child when my father taught here in the 60’s. It was always one of my favorite places. Sad to see it in such decay.


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