Vanderbilt's first observatory was housed on the campus itself. It was equipped with a 6-inch (150 mm) refracting telescope and was the site of E. E. Barnard's earliest astronomical work. Barnard would eventually discover 16 comets and the fifth moon of Jupiter, receive the only honorary degree Vanderbilt has ever awarded, and have the on-campus observatory named in his honor. However, that on-campus observatory would eventually prove insufficient for the university's needs.
When Seyfert joined the university's faculty in 1946, he lobbied for increasing the astronomy department's modest course offerings and for a new observatory. He solicited donations from over 80 Nashville businesses to outfit the new observatory and convinced Dyer, owner of Nashville Bridge Company, to donate the funds for and to install the observatory's dome. When the observatory opened in December 1953, Seyfert was named its director, and, after his death, the 24-inch (610 mm) telescope was named in his honor.