NORWAY — An observatory rolled through downtown Norway late last week.
The Roger Twitchell Observatory, which housed the 6-foot-long optical tube and its 13.5-inch primary mirror that was originally crafted in the 1870s in New York, was transported from its long-time home on Hooper Ledge in Paris to its new site on Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway on October 25.
Along the route, there were a lot of double takes from motorists and pedestrians as the two Bancroft Contracting trucks, one carrying the dome, and the other the bottom half of the metal structure that had been lifted by a crane, made its way down Route 26 through Paris and Norway.
“Everyone looked puzzled,” said Tom Norton of Bancroft Contracting based in Paris.
The move began in the morning at Hooper Ledge on Paris Hill where the observatory had hosted hundreds of astronomy enthusiasts who have made their way up the winding dirt Hooper Ledge Road over the last 20 years, and 10 years previously behind the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, to view the moon, planets, constellations, galaxies, the universe.
After workers from Bancroft Contracting unbolted the dome from the bottom of the structure, a 14-ton boom truck from the company that has a 96-foot reach lifted the dome off the base of the structure and placed it on one truck while, then the bottom half was lifted and placed on the second truck.
By 11 a.m., the trucks were rolling down Paris Hill and onto Route 26 for the journey to Roberts Farm Preserve where the two pieces were lowered onto the newly poured foundation and bolted together again.
“It was a nice project to relocate history,” said Norton who added that Goerge Rice served as the project manager.
The George Robey Howe telescope, which is now in storage, will be reassembled inside the dome at some future date.
The observatory, a joint effort between the Oxford Hills School District (SAD 17) and the Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange, had been housed on land donated by Jim and Karen Nay but earlier this year Superintendent Rick Colpitts announced that the owners decided to do something different with their land.
The Western Foothills Land Trust then agreed to host the observatory at Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway and both parties signed an agreement to that effect.
“The district is grateful for the accommodations the Ney family has made in hosting the Twitchell Observatory for the past 20 plus years and equally pleased that the district was able to enhance its partnership with the Western Maine Land Trust to find a permanent home for the observatory,” he said.
Colpitts told the Advertiser Democrat that the new location will enable the district to make access to the observatory more convenient and will further enhance the district’s mutual educational collaboration with the Roberts Farm Preserve, which now includes outdoor classrooms and gardens.
Additionally, he noted, the new site will provide better ability to supervise and schedule the facility’s use.
Terry Robinson, an amateur astronomer who this fall is leading a Stargazing Jumpstart class through Adult Education, said she believes the observatory won’t be operational until next spring.
Until then, Robinson said the monthly Observatory Nights will still be held (albeit without the observatory) at various sites that are found and plowed throughout the winter.
“We have a group of volunteers with telescopes that help with those Open Observatory Nights, and we all want to continue through the winter if we can,” she said.
The Roger Twitchell Observatory houses a 13-inch reflective telescope named after George Robey Howe, a Norway naturalist and scientist who died in 1950.
“We are exited about the new location and look forward to providing convenient access to the celestial world to wider audiences,” Colpitts said.