Witte Observatory Complex

The JOHN H. WITTE, JR. OBERVATORY COMPLEX consists of three separate observatory buildings. It is located at 18832 152nd Avenue, Sperry, Iowa in Big Hollow Recreation Area approximately 12 miles north of Burlington, Iowa.

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The Observatory Complex is open for free public viewing every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month from April to December by volunteers from the Southeastern Iowa Astronomy Club at dusk - weather permitting.

History of Observatories Buildings and Telescopes within the Complex:

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Witte Observatory Building houses a 12-inch aperture refractor manufactured in 1937 by Alvan Clark and Sons. It is doublet achromatic design with a brass tube approximately 15 feet long resting on a German Equatorial mount. Depending on the eyepiece used, it can magnify celestial objects up to nearly 400 times. This telescope is believed to be the largest refractor in Iowa. John H. Witte, Jr gave this telescope to the Burlington School district housed at Apollo School. The Des Moines County Conservation Board owns the telescope and the Southeastern Iowa Astronomy Club members built a building to house the telescope which was completed in 1987.

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Prugh-Carver Observatory Building (The Roll-Off) with a unique motorized roll roof houses John H. Witte’s personal 8-inch refractor manufactures in 1931 and built in 1996.

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Stone-Kelly Observatory Building houses a 16-inch Ealing Cassegrian telescope relocated from the current Burlington High School in 2004. The building was named for two Burlington space pioneers. Dr. Edward Stone, Project Scientist for the Voyager Missions and former Director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Astronaut Jim Kelly, Space Shuttle Pilot on STS-102 Discovery and STS 114 Return to Flight missions.

John H. Witte, Jr. Observatory Complex is the result of cooperation between Des Moines County Conservation, Burlington Community School District, John H. Witte Jr. foundation and Southeastern Iowa Astronomy club. The Witte Observatory and the Prugh-Carver Observatory are owned by Des Moines County Conservation. The Stone-Kelly Observatory is under long-term loan agreement between Des Moines County Conservation and the Burlington Community School District.


For further information call 319-753-1082 regarding tour groups.