Warren County was once a hotbed of astronomy.
The county has claimed the fifth-largest reflecting telescope in Pennsylvania, according to an article in the April 6, 1939, edition of the Warren Times-Mirror, courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society.
Raymond Steber, best known for being part of the FA Steber Cigar Company, was the driving force behind the introduction of this telescope’s main mirror to the county.
He had previously built and then dismantled an observatory – complete with a 12.5-inch telescope – in Warren in 1934. This facility was in the upper part of Buchanan Street, north of Verbeck.
In the 1930s he came across an upgrade he couldn’t refuse, according to Steber’s granddaughter, Liz Webster, now of Franklin, Tasmania, Australia – a 16.5-inch mirror for a telescope with reflector.
“In the 1930s, a cousin of our grandfather, who worked in New York for the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge, contacted him about a faulty – cracked telescope lens.” said Webster. “The manufacturer could no longer sell it to the university that ordered it, so it was ‘cheap’ by word of mouth among astronomers, engineers.”
“Mr. Steber, an amateur, bought the lens and then took on the challenge of building the telescope for it,” she says.
The project was important enough for Scientific American to publish an article about it.
Using a design created by Elbert Mohr, and parts and equipment donated by the National Forge and Ordnance Company of Irvine, Hammond Iron Works, Warren Motors and Carlson’s Service Stores, Bert Hanson of the Jamestown Astronomers Guild built the 10.5 feet long, 18 – 2.5 cm diameter metal tube for the telescope, according to “The Observatory that Was” by Mary Putnam, from the May 2015 edition of Stepping Stones, courtesy of Warren County Historical Society.
With a new telescope, Steber needed a better, darker location.
He was a founding member of the Warren County Astronomical Society, formed in October 1938. This group received permission to build their observatory on property in the Allegheny National Forest about 10 miles south of Warren on what is now Hearts Content Road – on old Tidioute Road about 2 miles north of Sandstone Springs.
It was completed in 1939 and the new 16.5 inch telescope was the main attraction.
“The facility was available for serious study or casual observation”, Putnam said. “The moon, planets and a variety of stars were easily observed.”
The new society and its observatory were popular. There were 160 members of the society and the observatory reportedly saw 600 visitors in a week.
Harry Grandquist lived with his wife, Mabel, in a cottage adjacent to the observatory site and oversaw the operation.
Later, “In the 1950s, two teenagers with early interests and knowledge came from Jamestown and the Astronomers Guild to learn about the Warren County Observatory. When the leading members realized how well they knew the location of celestial objects and the use of a large telescope, they gave Richard Carlson and D. James Boyd a key to open the observatory on Saturday evening to the public. . according to Putnam.
“Astronomy has been my hobby since 1945,” Carlson said in an August email to Webster. “Two of us Jamestown Fellows operated the Warren Observatory in the late 1950s on Saturday nights under the direction of Harry Grandquist.”
Among the visitors were Steber’s grandchildren – John, Elizabeth and Howard Webster III. They lived in Rochester, NY at the time and were regular guests at Warren.
“During our many visits to Warren, Ray used to wake our grandchildren late at night and drive us to the observatory to see Saturn’s rings, among other features of the summer sky,” said Liz Webster. “These night visits to the observatory with our grandfather were always fun. Who else had a grandfather who woke them up in the middle of the night to go for a walk in the countryside and use “his” telescope?
Steber would entertain his groggy grandchildren during the ride by singing to them.
“Travel definitely sparked a lifelong interest in astronomy,” she says. “Also, us kids loved to sit outside on summer nights at home with our parents and admire the starry sky.”
His father filled a generation with an interest in heaven. “My father had flown B-24s over the vast Pacific in World War II, and told us he could”navigate“by the stars when driving at night”, said Webster.
The family’s interest in astronomy lasted, but over time public interest waned. In 1961, there were only five active members and 500 people visited the telescope in a year.
The dome was dismantled in 1962.
Several plans for new observatories subsequently failed, and parts of Steber’s telescope and the observatory that housed it were separated.
The foundation of the observatory can still be seen – like a ring of blocks. Those interested in visiting the site are welcome, but it is not a developed area, does not have convenient parking, and is near private property.
“Be aware of and respect private property boundaries and all archaeological and historical resources on federal lands are protected and should not be disturbed, damaged or removed as they are protected so that everyone can enjoy and learn from them now and in the future. ‘coming”, Said Christopher Leeser, head of public affairs for the ANF.
The tube is being held by the historical society — which is working on an exhibit at the Wilder Museum of Warren County History, according to executive director Michelle Gray.
According to Carlson, the mirror is in the possession of Tom Traub, board member of the Martz Kohl Observatory in Frewsburg.