Twitchell Observatory gets go-ahead to move

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Brush work has begun for the new home of the Twitchell Observatory on Robert's Preserve. The observatory will be sited near the SAD 17 outdoor classrooms.

NORWAY — The Norway Planning Board has given the go-ahead to SAD 17 officials to move the Twitchell Observatory from its long-time location on Hoopers Ledge in Paris to a site on Roberts Farm Preserve.

“It was approved at last week’s Planning Board meeting,” said SAD 17 Facilities Director Dean Dillingham.

The board approval was necessary before the building could be moved to the new location near the SAD 17 outdoor classrooms at Roberts Farm Preserve.

The observatory on Hooper Ledge Road had been host to hundreds, probably thousands, of amateur astronomy enthusiasts who treked up the winding gravel road over the last 20 years to view moons, planets, constellations, galaxies and other celestial bodies in the universe.

But in June, Superintendent Rick Colpitts announced at the SAD 17 Board of Directors meeting that the land owners – Jim and Karen Ney – who in 2001 donated the use of the hilltop to place the Observatory, notified him they plan to go in a different direction with their property in the future. Prior to that time, the Observatory had been on the grounds of the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School since its construction in 1972.

The Western Foothills Land Trust agreed to host the Observatory at Roberts Farm Preserve on a southeast corner of the farmstead, said Executive Director Lee Dassler at the time. An agreement was signed to formalize the venture this summer.

In June, a core group of amateur astronomers, led by the observatory’s namesake Roger Twitchell, dismantled the 6-foot long optical fiberglass tube that holds the 13.5-inch primary mirror that was originally crafted in the 1870s in New York. It has been in storage at an unnamed location since that time, awaiting its new home.

Sometime this fall, the observatory, which is a joint effort between the Oxford Hills School District and the Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange, will be reassembled at Roberts Farm Preserve where it is hoped that even more people, particularly SAD 17 students, will have an opportunity to see the stars.

The popular observatory training class given by Rick Chase through the Adult Education classes are expected to begin October 16 at the new location.

There is some irony about the move of the telescope back to Norway. The nearly 150-year-old 13-inch mirror that made its way from New York to Maine on its original telescope to noted naturalist and teacher George Howe of Norway many years ago, came inscribed with a message that the telescope was for “the benefit of the young people of Norway, Maine.”

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net