The Morrison Observatory:

Celebrating 90 years of Central history

October 2, 2017

CMU's Morrison ObservatoryThe year 2017 marks Central Methodist University’s 90th anniversary as owner and caretaker of the Morrison Observatory. The observatory has begun its seasonal Thursday evening viewings, which are free and open to the public.

During open hours at the Morrison Observatory, which run through Nov. 2, from 7:30-9:30 p.m., telescopes will be focused primarily on the planet Saturn. They’ll also be trained on the Ring Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy, according to observatory manager Dr. Kendal W. Clark, CMU assistant professor of physics.

Special open sessions to commemorate the 90th anniversary are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14, in conjunction with CMU Homecoming festivities. Open hours that weekend will be 8-10 p.m.

The Morrison Observatory had a long and storied existence even before it found its way home to Fayette.

In 1874 heiress Berenice Morrison (Morrison-Fuller after she married John Fuller in 1886) from Glasgow pledged $100,000 (today’s equivalency of more than $2 million) to the building of an observatory for the Pritchett Institute, which was founded in 1866 and built in 1875 - 142 years ago - in Glasgow.

A lifetime later, following the death of Berenice Morrison-Fuller’s husband, John, she moved to St. Louis and abandoned most of her connections with Glasgow. In 1919 she asked the Pritchett Board, for the first of three times, to give the Morrison Observatory over to the University of Missouri or Washington University. The board deferred the requests.

The next month Central College put in a request for the observatory to come to Central. The board ignored that request as well. Finally, in 1925, three years after Pritchett College itself had closed, Berenice petitioned the Howard County Court to award the observatory to Central College, which it did.

Unfortunately, it was impractical for Central classes to be held at the observatory in Glasgow, and the building and equipment suffered from neglect.

In 1934 Berenice Morrison-Fuller and Henry Pritchett, who had worked at the observatory under his father as a youth, joined forces to provide and raise the funds necessary to move the Morrison Observatory to Fayette, a job which was accomplished within a year.

It has been 90 years since the observatory eventually was awarded to Central College late in 1926 or early 1927, The entire observatory and its possessions were finally moved to its current location in Fayette in 1935.

The Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science Division at CMU has gone to extreme measures, along with members of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association, to care for and utilize the building and the equipment that occupies it.

The most impressive piece of astronomical instrumentation is a 12 1/4-inch refractor telescope, built by the legendary Alvan Clark Company. It sits in the upstairs Harvard College-modeled ceilinged dome that opens and rotates, depending on the view needed.

In the 19th century Dr. Henry Pritchett used the 12-inch refractor to make a detailed study of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and to document his discoveries.

Another interesting instrument is a British-built transit from 1876. The device is a large, calibrated, 6-inch Meridian Telescope built by Troughton and Simms of London. The single axis telescope was used for decades, its information passed along to clocks and other signaling devices to set all to the same time.

In a small building to the north of the Morrison Observatory is housed another telescope, a 10-inch reflecting telescope, which is also available to the public on observation nights.