Place and Architecture: Dyer Observatory Added to the National Register of Historic Places

Dyer ObservatoryThe Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

“Listing is recognition of a property’s importance,” says Claudette Stager with the Tennessee Historical Commission, which administers the program in Tennessee. “Properties that are listed in the National Register are important for history, architecture and culture.”

The Arthur J. Dyer Observatory was built on a hilltop in the southern part of Davidson County in 1953. The property includes the observatory, a 1953 house and garage, and the 2006 Star Chamber by British artist Chris Drury. Chattanooga architects and amateur astronomers Clarence T. and R. Bruce Jones designed the observatory for Vanderbilt. Arthur J. Dyer, head of the Nashville Bridge Co., had the dome built and was responsible, along with Vanderbilt astronomy professor Carl K. Seyfert, for getting the observatory completed.

“The observatory came about as a result of the influence and effort of some truly great astronomers and city leaders,” says Rocky Alvey, assistant director and superintendent of the observatory. “As a result of the commitment of these individuals, tens of thousands of people since 1953 have had eye- and mind-opening astronomical experiences, and that tradition continues to this day at one of Nashville’s most wonderful historic and architectural treasures.”

Traits of historical significance that helped put the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory on the National Register include the following:

  • Display cases filled with the original equipment of E.E. Barnard, discoverer of the fifth moon of Jupiter, 16 comets, dark nebulae and more, are housed at the observatory.
  • Carl Seyfert, whose legacy includes having classes of galaxies (the Seyfert Galaxies) named after him, conducted his own research at the observatory until his death in 1960.
  • The observatory contains a unique and versatile telescope called a Baker Reflector-Collector that was one of the first of its kind to be built.

Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.

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