Thursday, March 8, 2018

"Yerkes Observatory closing after 100 years on lakefront"

  • WILLIAMS BAY — After more than a century of scientific exploration on the shores of Geneva Lake, the renowned Yerkes Observatory is ceasing operations.

    The University of Chicago, which owns Yerkes, announced today that it is closing the facility effective Oct. 1 and shifting all programs and services to Chicago.

    "Unfortunately operating Yerkes no longer makes sense for the university from a programmatic or cost standpoint," David Fithian, the university's executive vice president, said in announcing the closure.

    Opened in 1897, the Williams Bay observatory, with its giant telescopes, became the home of groundbreaking astronomical research. Famed scientists such as Edwin Hubble worked there, and Albert Einstein visited the observatory in 1921.

    Yerkes was home to the University of Chicago's astronomy and astrophysics department until the 1960s.

    In recent years, the Chicago university has invested in telescopes and observatories elsewhere, and Yerkes has played a diminishing role in the school's scientific research mission.

    "It is an important part of the history of the university," Edward Kolb, the school's dean of sciences, said in today's announcement. "And we hope it will become, in some form, a valuable resource to the surrounding community and visitors to the Lake Geneva area."

    The university said it would continue operations at Yerkes through the summer season, and it would honor existing commitments for programs there.

    After the closure Oct. 1, officials said, they have no specific plans for the property. According to today's announcement, the university intends to engage civic leaders in Williams Bay and the surrounding area in a dialogue on future possibilities for the lakefront site.

    "Drawing to a close our operations there," Fithian said, "is the first step in a collaborative process to determine the ultimate disposition of the buildings and property."
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