Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oh My Stars, John Quincy Adams visits Cincinnati

version 2 of the Cincinnati Observatory
On November 9th, 1843, a 77-year-old John Quincy Adams helped lay the cornerstone for the new Cincinnati Observatory in Mt Ida OH and the following day November 10thdelivered what would be his last public speech to 3,000 citizens. The 6th US President was a bit of an astronomy buff and came to the area for the dedication despite his ailing health. Adams was the first US President to visit Cincinnati. The observatory was one of the best astronomical research centers in its time and is still in use today. It is the oldest professional observatory in the United States, a National Historic Landmark, and considered the Birthplace of American Astronomy.

But there is more to the story....

If you live in Cincinnati, you might be thinking, "Where the heck is Mt. Ida?" 
Mt. Ida was renamed to Mt. Adams to honor the former President following this event. Land was donated by Nicholas Longworth, a prominent banker, winemaker and general rich guy. The man responsible for raising the funds for the observatory was Astronomer Ormsby MacKnight Mitchela professor of mathematics and philosophy at Cincinnati College, which later became the University of Cincinnati. Mitchel later served as a Major General for the Union during the Civil War. Nearby Ft Mitchell KY gets its name from the fort he built to defend Cincinnati against the Confederate Army. An extra L was added to the end of the city name due to an oversight. (It is Kentucky after all and <obligatory Kentucky hillbilly joke goes here>). Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel died in South Carolina of yellow fever in 1862 during the war.

You might be thinking, "But there is no observatory in Mt. Adams!" You are correct. Cincinnati was really on the rise at this time. So was the pollution and smoke from the local industries that ruined the view in the Mt. Adams area by the 1860's. This made it nearly impossible to view the heavens from this location.

John Quincy Adams touched this stone
So, in 1873 the equipment at the original observatory (the present day site of Holy Cross Monastery and Church) was moved to a new observatory building built on a different nearby hill on land donated by a local businessman, John Kilgour. The old cornerstone was re-laid for the new building.This area near Ault Park, then known as Delta, was then renamed to Mt. Lookout. The Cincinnati Observatory has been owned and operated by the University of Cincinnati since that time. 
In 1904 a second smaller building was built on the property for another telescope.
In 1935, an asteroid was discovered by Edwin Hubble and named, 1373 Cincinnati after the observatory staff who did the orbit calculations on Hubble's discovery. 
One of the telescopes housed here is the oldest continually used telescope in the world but more importantly, there is a really nice multi-level geocache here that takes you on a tour of the property and the Planet Walk which my kids and I did in July 2010.
my kids are standing on Uranus on the planet walk

John Quincy Adams died 5 years later on February 23rd, 1848, two days after suffering a massive stroke on the House floor.

The Cincinnati Observatory Center is open to the public where you can tour the facility and use the two 19th and early 20th-century refractor telescopes. 
For more information and the calendar of events, visit their website:


  1. I had no idea that JQA gave his last public speech in Cincinnati. I'm about to start reading Fred Kaplan's 2014 bio "John Quincy Adams: American Visionary, so this is timely. Thanks for this!

  2. thanks for are POTUS Geeks correct?