Georgetown’s Heyden Observatory lost out on a $100,000 grant from Partners in Preservation after a three-week campaign by Georgetown College to encourage support for the site. The observatory did, however, receive $10,000 for participating in the contest that lasted from April 24 to May 10.
The Washington Cathedral earned the most points through online voting and social media to win the full $100,000, which will be used to repair nave vaulting.
An advisory committee from Partners in Preservation — a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express — allocated a further $785,000 among 12 sites. The remaining 11 locations, including the Heyden Observatory, received $5,000 each. The observatory received an additional $5,000 for putting together a concerted effort in the Partners in Preservation campaign.
“[The money] isn’t enough to do any major renovation, [but] we were pleased to see how proactive the College was in pushing this,” Georgetown University Astronomical Society Vice President Daniel Dylewsky (COL ’15) said. “Now, [the observatory] is a higher priority.”
The Heyden Observatory was one of 24 finalists in the contest, chosen through two application processes from 200 government- or nonprofit-owned sites identified by the National Trust in need of repair that could be completed within 14 months. Washington, D.C., was the eighth city to play host to the competition.
The College submitted the applications and organized the campaign materials, including a short film depicting a couple’s romantic night at the observatory.
“Georgetown College, which used to host the department of astronomy, took the lead on the project since Heyden Observatory was primarily used by that department,” Arts and Sciences Communication Officer Maggie Moore said.
The College sought funds to restore the observatory exterior, which is currently covered in lead paint, but the Astronomical Society is pushing for further renovations.
“There’s a variety of things that need to be done … to restore it to its peak condition, when it was used for astronomy,” Dylewski said. “That means, first of all, repairing or replacing the dome, which is falling apart.”
He also hopes to replace the telescope steering system, which is currently motorized, with parts to evoke the historic analog system.
The observatory is now used as the host of the entomology and biodiversity laboratory and Astronomical Society meetings. The site was completed in 1844, making it the third oldest observatory in the country. In 1846, the observatory was used to determine the geographical coordinates of Washington. Light pollution currently inhibits its further use in astronomy.
“When it was used as an observatory, it was part of some important scientific discoveries,” National Trust’s southern field office Director Rob Nieweg said to The Hoya. “It is also connected to the contemporary campus. … The National Trust for Historic Preservation, we evaluate the past … but also what’s happening today.”
He added that the contest had two goals: to award money for preservation and to increase public support and awareness of preservation projects.
“We were very impressed with the social media response and we know the students love it,” Niewegsaid.
Nieweg suggested that Georgetown and other unsuccessful contest participants continue to highlight the historical sites in need of renovation. The National Trust holds a follow-up workshop for competitors to provide tips on how to capitalize on participation.
“We plan to revisit our plans for the observatory in light of the funding we received and continue to look for opportunities to preserve the observatory and heighten awareness of this historic building,” Moore said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of money the Heyden Observatory was granted in the Partners in Preservation contest. It was $10,000, not $5,000.