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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

The Fuertes Observatory Centennial Renovation Project

Thank you to everyone who has helped us reach our $15,000 goal! In the final days of the project, we are still pushing to raise funds to complete all of the projects we would like to see done at Fuertes. Check out our goal list for more info!

Since 1917, the Fuertes Observatory has been Cornell's window into the wonders of the universe. However, after a century of continuous use, many parts of the building are in need of renovation and upgrading. The Cornell Astronomical Society opens Fuertes every Friday evening to over 4,000 visitors each year, and we need your help to ensure that Fuertes will continue to be an outstanding center for public outreach and science education for another 100 years to come!

Sunset over Fuertes in early 2017

A Brief History of the Fuertes Observatory 

In 1916, construction of the Fuertes Observatory began under the supervision of the Cornell Department of Civil Engineering. The building was completed in 1917 with a 24-foot-diameter steel dome; 30-foot-long I-beams were incorporated to provide support for a future telescope. The first telescope in the dome room of Fuertes was a 4.5-inch refractor telescope used in some of Cornell's previous observatories, and was mounted on an equatorial clock-driven mount. Many of the Civil Engineering Department's surveying instruments (zenith telescopes, theodolites, sextants, etc.) were mounted on piers in a transit room in the eastern wing of the building, which is now a museum displaying the same instruments. 

Soon after, in 1919, Civil Engineering Professor Irving Porter Church acquired two glass blanks from the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin. The glass blanks were ground and polished into a 12-inch achromatic lens by Brashear & Co in 1920. Professor Church spearheaded a campaign to raise money from civil engineering alumni to build the telescope and equatorial mounting. In January 1922, the order was placed with the Warner & Swasey Company to build the equatorial mount, and the telescope was officially dedicated on June 15, 1923 as the Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope.

Read more about the history of Fuertes Observatory, written by Professor Phil Nicholson, on our Fuertes History Page!

The Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope at Fuertes Observatory

Two years ago, we launched our extremely successful Fuertes Observatory Museum Project, which allowed us to renovate the eastern wing of the building, previously used as storage space, into a professional space to display our historic astronomical equipment. If you haven't visited since the renovation, its outcome can be seen in this Cornell Chronicle Article and in our renovation gallery! With this momentum, we would like to continue restoring other parts of the building for its 100th anniversary. 

We Need Your Help!

For 100 years, the Fuertes Observatory has been open to the public to learn about the wonders of the universe and the history of astronomy. Over the years, many parts of the building have fallen into disrepair and are in need of renovation. While the Cornell Astronomy Department and Cornell Facilities are dedicated to fixing and preserving the exterior of the building, funds are not readily available to upgrade and restore the inside of Fuertes. That's why we need your help!

We have three main goals for this project:

  • Dome Room Renovation: $10,000 (funded!) 
    • The dome room, the "crown jewel" of the building that houses the historic Irving Porter Church Refractor, is in desperate need of restoration. We hope to give the walls and telescope a fresh coat of paint, replace the decades-old carpet with new flooring, add better lighting for cloudy night tours, and install cabinets to store the observatory's equipment. Additionally, some of the dome's mechanical parts, such as the shutter and driver, need to be fixed for smoother operation and protection of the telescope.
  • The Classroom: $5,000 (funded!)      
    • With our successful outreach program, we are in need of upgrading the observatory's classroom to better accommodate our lecture series. We also need to purchase and mount a new projector in the classroom, and install a sound and computer system for documentaries & presentations.
  • Museum and Observatory Displays: $3,000
    • To complete the Fuertes Observatory Museum, we need to print and mount approximately 20 high-quality displays on the walls throughout the observatory. Additionally, several antique prints need to be professionally preserved before they can safely be put on display.

Any additional funds on top of that will go towards renovating other parts of the building, including the ground level flooring, the observatory's office, and the exterior of the dome itself. 

From all of us at the Cornell Astronomical Society, thank you for your support!


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!