By December of 1905 the University had purchased a telescope for $1,000 but there were no accommodations for its mounting. It was recommended to the Board of Trustees that to build a suitable observatory building and to cover the cost for proper care of the telescope would cost around $2,000. A request was made to the Board of Trustees that an appropriation in that amount be named. This first campus observatory was located on the northeast corner of what is now McVey Hall.
By 1928 the University campus had grown. The Board of Trustees minutes reflect the need to move the observatory because it was in the way of the new recitation building that was then being built. It was stated that although it was convenient to have the observatory building close to the university center so that students could reach it during the intervals between classes that it was almost useless because there was now insufficient elevation all the way around, and the reflected lights from the city interfered with viewing.
In 1929 President McVey presented to the Board the matter of the observatory which had by then been removed from central campus. He recommended that the observatory be reconstructed at the head of Woodland Avenue on the University farm, indicating that this location was quiet, out of reach of the city, and would be fairly suitable for observation purposes at that point. The motion was made, seconded, and carried. In 1930, bids were put out for construction and it was completed in 1931.
The observatory contained two refractor telescopes, one equatorially mounted 8-inch and one, 2/12-inch. A 20-inch reflector telescope was purchased soon after. Through the telescopes, one could see craters and mountains on the moon, various planets, comets, and stars. A photographic attachment was added to the telescope for making pictures of astronomical observations. The observatory was ultimately constructed on the experiment station farm at the intersection of Woodland and Hilltop Avenues.
By 1959, Cooperstown had been constructed and lights were once again interfering with viewing so a new observatory location was once again under consideration. At this point, the observatory was open to the public every Thursday evening from 7:30-8:30. However by 1963, the observatory was considered surplus to the needs of the University and dismantled in 1965. The telescope and dome were given to Eastern Kentucky University.
In 2008, the third campus observatory officially began operations. The MacAdam Observatory was built after a $250,000 gift from Keith and Phyllis MacAdam initiated the project and was matched by the Research Challenge Trust fund.
The MacAdam Student Observatory is a University of Kentucky building located on top of parking garage structure #2 that is used by faculty and students for research and learning. The MacAdam Student Observatory staff are pleased to welcome the public to the facility and present a program of public outreach on every second Thursday of the month.