West Lafayette Observatory History

Eugene Lowman, a local industrialist and co-founder of New Century Homes originally built the observatory to house a 12½" Newtonian telescope that he had constructed.  The scope was originally permanently mounted on a pier, and covered with a tarp to protect it from the weather, in his West Lafayette yard on Salisbury Street hill across from the water tank. This was before many commercially made telescopes of that size were available and therefore was custom made. The electric clock drive was constructed by an amateur machinist, Bob Bates, in his basement shop at his home in Lafayette.

When Lowman built a new home overlooking the Wabash River he ordered a modified silo top dome to enclose the telescope in an observatory.  For some reason that we don't know, he decided to build the observatory on the grounds of the future Cumberland Elementary School (now the West Lafayette Elementary School) and donate it to the West Lafayette School District for use by the school system, Purdue University, and the public.

WVAS worked with the school system and with Purdue to maximize utilization of the facility.  When the Purdue Physics Department eventually became dissatisfied with the old 12½" scope in 1987, a replacement was sought.  WVAS members were consulted and they decided that the scope should be replaced with a 14" Celestron telescope which was, at that time, the largest commercially available Schmidt-Cassegrain.  The Physics Department ordered the C14 and installed it at the West Lafayette Observatory.

The C14 had severe problems that resulted in a Byers drive being retrofitted to it.  It served for several years before being replaced in the observatory's dome by a 16" Meade LX200 in 1995, and then a 16" Meade LX200-ACF in 2014.  These instruments have been educational tools that have allowed all groups to learn, enjoy, and share research-grade telescopes.

Eugene Lowman in a picture dated 3/18/61.

Original telescope in the dome circa 1967.

Photo from Richard McCormick

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