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The Fuertes Observatory Centennial Renovation Project

Raised toward our $15,000 Goal
108 Donors
Project has ended
Project ended on May 15, at 12:00 AM EDT
Project Owners

Thank You!

May 15, 2017

A huge thank you to each of our 108 donors who helped us raise $15,103 to renovate and upgrade the Fuertes Observatory for its centennial year! We are all thrilled by the response to this project and that so many people think Fuertes is an amazing place worth being preserved! 

We are very excited to get started with the renovations, and we hope to have most of them finished by the end of the summer (depending on Cornell facilities). We will keep everyone updated regarding the status of the renovations and upgrades over the coming months, and we'd love to hear your comments and suggestions!

Also, if you are ever in the Ithaca area and want to stop by Fuertes, do not hesitate to contact one of the Cornell Astronomical Society officers (contact info found here). We would love to give you a tour and show you the sky with our telescopes! We are also open to the public every Friday night starting around 8:00 PM. 

Thank you again for your awesome support, and we hope to see you at Fuertes!


The Cornell Astronomical Society

Fuertes Observatory Project Goal Update

May 03, 2017

We received a very generous gift to fund the classroom upgrades and renovations, which has pushed us over our $10,000 goal! We are absolutely thrilled about this and what it will allow us to do with our lecture series and other outreach programs! 

With 11 days left in the campaign, we are still hoping to raise enough funds to renovate the dome room, print and mount displays, and fix up other parts of the Fuertes Observatory. We are now working to reach a stretch goal of $15,000, which we are 81% of the way to. 

Thanks again for the amazing support we have received from everybody throughout this entire project!

(Below are photos of Jupiter and Mars recently taken by Cornell Astronomical Society members through the Irving Porter Church Telescope at Fuertes)

History of the Fuertes Observatory

May 02, 2017

With a little under 2 weeks to go, we have raised over $7,000 towards our goal to renovate Fuertes Observatory for its centennial year! Thank you for your support!

Just over 101 years ago in April of 1916, ground was broken on top of a grassy knoll above Beebe Lake, and the construction of the Fuertes Observatory was underway. Designed by Cornell Professor of Architecture L. P. Burnham and supervised by the Department of Civil Engineering, the observatory was completed just over a year later in the fall of 1917. The 24’ diameter dome boasted a 4.5” refractor on an equatorial mount, which had been procured by the Civil Engineering Department in the late 1800s. Four 30’-long I-beams were installed into the structure of the building – rather than the standard masonry pier – to support the future 12” refractor.

On its ground floor, the new observatory housed a transit room with four concrete piers, a classroom, a computing room, an office and secure storage rooms, as well as display cases for astronomical photographs and lantern slides, while in the basement there was a temperature-controlled room with double-glass windows for the astronomical clock, constant-temperature rooms for geodetic lab work, a photographic darkroom and a room for the “comparator”, previously housed in Lincoln Hall. It was equipped with three transit telescopes, a zenith instrument and an altazimuth, as well as assorted sextants, surveyor’s transits, collimators and meteorological recording equipment. Throughout the fall semester, engineering students used the observatory’s telescopes to measure stars for calculations of time and position. Their summer was spent in the field, surveying the Finger Lakes. Many of these antique instruments are now on display in the Fuertes Museum, which occupies the eastern wing of the building. To learn more about the history of the Fuertes Observatory, check out our Fuertes History Page with an article written by Prof. Phil Nicholson. 

With just under two weeks left in the campaign, we need your continued support to help us spread the word to those who would be interested in preserving this history!


The Irving Porter Church Telescope

April 25, 2017

Another huge thank you to every one of our now 57 donors who has helped us raise $6000 for the Fuertes Observatory in two weeks! With another two weeks to go, we need your help to spread the word to fellow alumni, friends, and anyone who you think would enjoy this project!

We want to give you a brief history of the Fuertes Observatory’s focal point, the Irving Porter Church Memorial Refractor, as renovating the dome room that houses the historic 12” telescope will be our main goal for this project.

When Fuertes was built in 1917, funds were not available to build the planned 12” refracting telescope in the dome room of the observatory. Instead, an old 4.5” refractor and its equatorial mount were installed in the dome room while plans were made for the new telescope. In 1919, Civil Engineering Professor Irving Porter Church obtained two 12” glass blanks from the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, and had them ground and polished by the expert John Brashear Company, which delivered the doublet lens the following year. Meanwhile, Prof. Church raised money from engineering alumni through crowdfunding (!) to build the rest of the telescope. In 1922, the renowned Warner & Swasey Company was contracted to build the telescope and its equatorial mount. The original 4.5” refractor was piggybacked onto the new 12”, and the telescope was completed on October 16th, 1922. It was dedicated and named in honor of Professor Church the following June.

The telescope tracks objects in the sky using an original weight-driven clock drive, and a flyball governor in the heart of the drive regulates the exact speed at which the gears turn. Few antique telescopes have their original, unmodified clock drives left in operation, making the Irving Porter Church Telescope one of only a handful in its condition. The telescope is open to the public every Friday evening as part of our open house nights, and tens of thousands of visitors have peered through the nearly 100 year old refractor at the planets, stars, and galaxies.

The beautiful, historic telescope now sits in a leaky room that has not been renovated in decades, and with your help, our goal is to restore the dome room back to its original condition.

Nearly 20% in the First Week!

April 17, 2017

Thank you to everyone who has helped us raise almost $4,000 - 20% of our goal - in the first week of the campaign! It's been great to see so much awesome support from CAS alumni, family, friends, and Fuertes visitors! We are already starting to get things ready to begin renovating the dome room this summer, which will be first on our priority list. 

Last Friday, we held our fifth annual Yuri's Night Celebration at Fuertes with a lecture by Professor Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute, observing (Jupiter and its moons were spectacular), and astronaut food! For the first time, we held the lecture on the north lawn of Fuertes, with nearly 150 people (mainly families and community members) in attendance. It was a gorgeous evening, and it was yet another example of how important and impactful our outreach program is for the greater Ithaca and Upstate New York community. 

We are very optimistic that we will be able to achieve our goal in the remaining three weeks of the campaign, but we need your help to spread the word about the project! Our short term goal is to reach $6,000 (30%) by this Friday; once we reach this, Cornell will begin spreading the word as well to reach even more alumni and members of the Cornell Community. 

Thanks again for your support, and we hope to see you at Fuertes for observing or a public lecture in the next few weeks!!

Choose a giving level



Aristotle was a philosopher and astronomer in Ancient Greece, and his complex geometrical model of the universe lasted for almost 2000 years until the 16th century AD. A donation at this level will get us well on our way to renovating the Fuertes Observatory for a century to come!


Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus was a 16th century astronomer, and is considered to be the father of the heliocentric (sun-centered) model of the solar system. A donation at this level will help us buy a bucket of paint for the dome walls, install a new light, or get a new chair for the classroom!


Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler was a 17th century astronomer known for his groundbreaking laws of planetary motion. A donation at this level will allow us to professionally print and mount a display for our museum or classroom!


Galileo Galilei

17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei was the first person to point a telescope towards the sky, and his discovery that Jupiter had moons of its own demonstrated that the Copernican model of the universe was true. A donation at this level will allow us to add much needed cabinets to store our equipment!


Estevan Fuertes

Professor Estevan Fuertes was the founding dean of Cornell's Department of Civil Engineering in 1873 and is the namesake of the Fuertes Observatory. A donation at this level will contribute significantly towards upgrading our classroom to accommodate more visitors for lectures!


Irving Porter Church

Professor Irving Porter Church (Class of 1873) was a renowned leader in the fields of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, and was responsible for the construction of the telescope at Fuertes Observatory bearing his name. A donation at this level will allow us to mount a new projector on the classroom ceiling for presentations and lectures!


Carl Sagan

The beloved Carl Sagan was a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell from 1968 to 1996, and his scientific contributions, books, and Cosmos series impacted the lives of millions of people around the world. A donation of this level will contribute significantly towards renovating the Fuertes Observatory dome room, which houses the historic Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope!