Remember When, Chattanooga? This famous Brainerd telescope to reopen this month

Chattanooga News-Free Press file photo via ChattanoogaHistory.com / In this 1963 photo, three Chattanooga teachers tour the Clarence T. Jones Observatory in Brainerd. They are, from left, Ralph Olinger, L.H. Morgan and Myron S. McCay. The photographer was Bob Sherrill.

The Clarence T. Jones Observatory, shown in this 1963 newspaper photograph, has been a gift to local astronomers and amateur star-gazers since before World War II.

According to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which manages the observatory, the Brainerd telescope has been pointed to the heavens since 1938, when it was built for the local school system.

It was constructed through a federal Public Works Administration grant during the Great Depression and was named for Clarence T. Jones, a Chattanooga amateur astronomer who designed the facility.

"The observatory was leased for $1 for 99 years to the (then) University of Chattanooga during the second world war," according to a published history on the UTC website. City officials then believed it was too sophisticated for schoolchildren, according to published reports.

This photo appeared in the Chattanooga News-Free Press on July 4, 1963, and shows local teachers using the Cassegrain reflector-type telescope with a 20.5-inch primary mirror. The photo is part of a collection of images at the ChattanoogaHistory.com website curated by history enthusiast Sam Hall.

In 2009, the observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Located at 10 Tuxedo Ave. in Brainerd, the observatory has been in nearly continuous use since the 1930s. It has, however, been closed to the public since 2020 due to COVID-19.

"We have used the time to get some work done on the observatory," Jack Pitken, of the UTC Chemistry and Physics Department, said in an email interview. "We will reopen Oct. 23 and hope to resume our regular public night program."

Public observatory programs are typically held on Sunday evenings according to the UTC website.

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ChattanoogaHistory.com

Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available. If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives or original nondigital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

"Remember When, Chattanooga?" is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.