Who doesn’t love the stars? No matter how many times it is explained to me, I refuse to believe that the stars exist for any reason other than the amusement of those of us with the time to look up at night and appreciate them. Earth-centric ramblings aside, Pittsburgh offers its citizens the opportunity to see those stars at absolutely no cost: The Allegheny Observatory.
Founded in the mid-1800s by the Allegheny Telescope Association, the building is a part of the Pittsburgh industrialist philosophy of creating resources for the community’s enrichment. When founded, the industrialists promised that it would remain free to the public forever, and despite changing hands and being annexed into Pittsburgh, it has yet to break its promise.
It ran out of revenue early in the life of the observatory, and was promptly sold to the University of Pittsburgh. They continue to operate it to this day, opening it to the public twice per week in the warmer months (because it has no climate control). It continues to be a site for important research, public lectures, and tours.
The building is located in the middle of Riverview Park, Pittsburgh’s fourth largest public park. Sitting neatly atop the crest of the hill, the building that currently acts as the observatory was built between 1900 and 1912. If you want to see the original building, you will have to see the model of it built for the (amazing) Model Railroad exhibit in the Carnegie Science center at the foot of the hill, about 3 miles away. The park is large and beautiful, and the views of Downtown rival the views from the incline, but presently we are here for the Observatory.
If you want to take a tour, you have to leave a message at the observatory. There is limited space and they use the reservations to coordinate themselves. As an active scientific research station for extrasolar planets and seismic measurements, it is important that they be able to work without disturbance, so please call ahead and wait to be contacted. They also have an open house once per year, and you should watch their website for details. Finally, they have a popular lecture series once per month, but you really have to compete for space and make reservations on the Monday one month in advance of the lecture. Again, the website had all the details.
If your head is in the stars already, it can be a fun trip to go see the Allegheny Observatory. Running the third largest refractor telescope in the United States, it is an important scientific station and local attraction, and you can feel like you are a part in the search for the hidden wonder in the universe. Don’t let the need to make reservations deter you from this Pittsburgh destination.
Allegheny Observatory: Homepage