Darling's Observatory

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Darling's Observatory
Organization Private
Location Duluth, Minnesota (United States)
Coordinates 46°46′47″N 92°06′47″W / 46.77972°N 92.11306°W / 46.77972; -92.11306
Altitude 283 meters (928 feet)
Unnamed Telescope 9-inch Brashear refractor

Darling's Observatory was a private observatory built by Mr. J. H. Darling in Duluth, Minnesota. The site of the observatory was on West 3rd St. between 9th and 10th avenues in Duluth, MN, and sat about 325 feet above Lake Superior (927 feet above sea level). Plans for the building were drawn by Richard E. Schmidt of Garden & Martin of Chicago. The blueprints for the steel dome were prepared by Mr. Darling himself after inspecting domes from various other observatories. The wooden building had a stucco exterior finish.


The observatory contained a 9-inch refracting telescope made by William Gaertner & Company of Chicago, Illinois. Soon after Mr. Darling placed the order, Gaertner & Co. replied that they were unable to obtain glass for the lens because of limited supplies during World War I. However, John A. Brashear Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania manufacturer of some of the World’s finest optical instruments, had on-hand a nine-inch objective, which Mr. Darling was able to obtain. The telescope was completed and set up in April 1917 at a cost at about $3,500.

The Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, located at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is now the home of Darling's Telescope.[1]

John H. Darling[edit]

Mr. Darling was a native of Michigan, having been born at Lake Ridge, a small settlement in Lenawee county, on April 15, 1847. His early education was at the district school, called the Darling School House, after which he attended high school for a term at Tecumseh, Michigan, eight miles from his farm home. In 1873 he graduated as civil engineer at the University of Michigan. The same year he entered the employ of the government and for nine years was engaged as assistant engineer on the U.S. Lake Survey chiefly in the measurement of angles on the primary systems of triangulation.

After the temporary closing of the Lake Survey in 1882 he was employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on river improvements in Minnesota’s St. Paul District as a draftsman.

From August 1884 to October 1913 Mr. Darling was principal assistant engineer on work of harbor improvements on Lake Superior. During the first two years of this period the western portion of the lake, including Duluth-Superior and the North Shore of Lake Superior as far as Grand Marais, was included in the St. Paul District’s jurisdiction. Mr. Darling was in local charge of harbor work at Duluth-Superior with an office in Duluth.

In 1886 the Duluth District was established, and by 1888 the Duluth District was enlarged to include the entire American shore of Lake Superior and the rivers discharging to the lake.

Mr. Darlings duties under the direction of the government officer, included the designing and construction of breakwaters, entrance piers, channels and anchorage basins, plans for the establishment of harbor lines, inspection of bridge construction over navigable waters, location and marking of wrecks, reported shoals and other obstructions, making preliminary examinations for improvements, final surveys, and estimates of proposed improvements. In these he was of course associated with other assistant engineers draftsmen, inspectors etc.

Special observations were made by Mr. Darling in 1902 of magnetic variations over that portion of Lake Superior west of Devils Island, including regions of local compass attraction, which had been reported and which endangered navigation by drawing vessels from their courses. The resulting variations were mapped and published in the annual report of the Chief of Engineers for 1904 with diagrams and details of methods. The map was also redrawn by the Lake Survey and published in several annual editions of the Bulletin.

Mr. Darling’s retirement on October 31, 1913, from the Corps of Engineers was by resignation after forty years of service. This step was taken partly on account of his health, and also to gratify a desire for travel and scientific study more than was possible while in government service.

In these later years his time and attention have chiefly been occupied with astronomy, a subject of which he was always fond, and which became his hobby. In 1916-17 he built an observatory, "for his private use and for the promotion among Duluth citizens of a popular knowledge of the noble science of astronomy," quoting from an inscription at the entrance. Provision has been made for the future maintenance and operation of the observatory in Duluth, by the General Extension Division of the state university.

Mr. Darling was a member of the American Society of civil Engineers and of the Duluth Section of that society, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; member of the American Astronomical Society; member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific; member of the Sons of the American Revolution, member of the St. Louis County Historical Society and member of its Board of Governors. The honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering was conferred by the University of Michigan in 1915. He was elected to the Duluth Hall of Fame in February 1930.

He was married February 25, 1880 to Miss Addie Ford of Tecumseh, Michigan, who died in Duluth, MN, June 11, 1920. The Darlings had no children.

See also[edit]


  • "Private Observatory in Duluth," Popular Astronomy, October 1917.