The Twitchell Observatory is a cooperative between the Oxford Hills School District (SAD 17) and the Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange. It is located on Hooper Ledge Road in South Paris, Maine.
History of the Roger Twitchell Observatory
The observatory is named for Roger Twitchell in recognition of his commitment to teaching students, fostering and nurturing their enjoyment of learning. Mr. Twitchell retired in 1998 after teaching physics at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School for 30 years. Mr. Twitchell and Joe Dobbins, another Oxford Hills science teacher, maintained the observatory from the time it was built on the Oxford High School grounds in 1972 until relocation to its present site in 2001.
The original observatory, located on the Oxford Hills High School grounds, first opened in 1972 after several years of planning, fundraising and construction. The design for the observatory as well as much of the fundraising was done by Steve Kessell while he was a student at Oxford Hills from 1963-1967. While at the high school, the observatory was used by Mr. Twitchell to teach principles of physics to high school students and by Mr. Dobbins to teach a popular adult education astronomy course.
When Oxford Hills High School expanded in 1995, the observatory needed to be relocated. The telescope was placed in storage, and the dome was moved to a temporary location on the school grounds while a permanent location was determined. It took another eight years before a suitable and permanent location for the observatory became available, during which time the observatory lay dormant.
In 2000, Jim and Karen Ney donated land on Hooper Ledge to the school district to use as a new home for the observatory. Using plans designed by Mr. Twitchell, Bancroft Construction laid the pier for the telescope, the slabs for the observatory dome and warming hut and moved the observatory dome from the high school grounds to its present site on Hooper Ledge Road. Mr. Twitchell, his wife Margaret and Joe Dobbins then moved and reassembled the telescope and mounted it to its pier.
At its present location on Hooper Ledge Road, the observatory continues to serve the Oxford Hills and surrounding communities. The observatory is used by several area schools and colleges to provide hands-on observing experience for students and teachers. In addition, Oxford Hills Adult Education continues to offer a course to learn how to use the observatory and be certified to use it independently. Since 2001, these courses have been taught by Rick Chase, who, along with Mr. Twitchell, also helps maintain the observatory.
History of the George Howe Telescope
The telescope's primary mirror is 13.5 inches in diameter with a focal length of about 5 feet. The mirror has had an interesting and varied history. The mirror was originally crafted by H. C. Maine in the mid-1870's in Rochester, New York. Mr. Maine was the editor of the Rochester daily newspaper and was a noted amateur astronomer and friend of the great American astronomer Lewis Swift. Mr. Maine used the telescope for many years, and with the telescope, he photographed well-renowned images of the moon and sun.
In 1894, he gave the telescope to his friend Alpheus Baker Hervey, then president of St. Lawrence University. During his tenure at St. Lawrence University, Dr. Hervey reportedly spent "much of his time peering through the telescope". In 1901, Dr. Hervey retired to Bath, Maine, and in the 1920's, gave the telescope to his friend George Howe "for the benefit of the young people of Norway, Maine." At the time, it was thought to be the largest telescope north of Boston.
George Howe was a noted naturalist and teacher in Norway, who had founded a local forerunner of the Boy Scouts in 1904. He placed the telescope on the summit of Pike's Hill, just above his home. For the next 20 years, Mr. Howe used the observatory as an open astronomy classroom for young and old alike. When he died, the telescope was dismounted, dismantled, and the mirror placed in storage until the 1960's, when Roland DeCoteau rediscovered it in a church basement.
Mr. Decoteau had visited George Howe's observatory on Pikes' Hill as a child. When the Space Race began in the early 1960's, Mr. DeCoteau rekindled his interest in astronomy and he became interested in finding the old telescope. After locating the mirror, Mr. Decoteau found a replacement optical tube for the telescope and gave the mirror and the optical tube to the Oxford High School science department to rebuild, so that it could be used by students and the community. Two students, Steve Kessell and Wayne Verrill, took on the project as their own and worked on refurbishing the mirror, rebuilding the telescope, designing an observatory to house the telescope and raising funds for building the observatory. At the time the observatory opened in 1972, it was the largest telescope in Maine, larger than any university telescope in Maine, and possibly, at the time, still the largest telescope north of Boston. It was also the largest telescope operated by a high school in the United States.
In the 1980's, the old wooden optical tube was replaced with the current fiberglass tube. When the telescope was reassembled at its new location, each part was refurbished or replaced and the mirror resurfaced and repolished again.
There's a lot going on in connection with the Observatory. Come be part of what's happening and prepare to be amazed!
An Open Observatory Night is held each month. The Observatory is free and open to the public on these nights. See the Announcements page for details. Want to find out what we saw at past Open Observatory Nights? Check out our "Observing Notes" page!
Special Open Observatory Nights are held from time to time, when there is something to be seen that won't be happening by the next regular Open Observatory. These are also listed on the Announcements page of this site.
Observatory Training Classes are available to learn how to use the telescope and be certified to operate the telescope independently. These are very affordable, four-session classes and are offered through Oxford Hills Adult Education (207-743-8842).