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A History of the Creighton Observatory in North Omaha

One building on the Creighton University campus is among the oldest and places a significant role in the history of field of astronomy. However, it is off limits to the public! Here is a history of the Creighton Observatory in North Omaha.

The first telescope was purchased by John A. Creighton for the university in 1884, before there was a facility for it. Soon after he arrived in 1885, Father William Rigge, S.J. became synonymous with the observatory. The primary lead for the facility, he was a renowned astronomical researcher and educator.

This is an early image of the observatory from before 1910.

The original telescope was installed at the new Creighton Observatory in 1886, at what was the first observatory in Omaha. It was made nationally known in 1887 when Father Rigge exchanged signals with the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. The facility was placed on the official list of the world’s observatories in 1902.

When he died in 1907, John A. Creighton left money to the university to buy a new telescope from London.

In 1924, a widening of North 24th Street led to the building being renovated for continued use. The facility operated from 1886 into the 1930s. Father William F. Rigge made important observations and became a noted astronomer while teaching at Creighton during the early era of the university’s history. He died in 1927, having spent more than 40 years of his career at the university.

This 1930s image of the Creighton Observatory shows the 1910 retention wall.

After the 1970s, the city’s lights were too bright for the telescope to be used regularly, especially after 1988 when floodlights on campus blocked its abilities entirely.

Kept in varying conditions over the years, students have been in the building throughout the years with special events, and it continues to stand today. The Creighton University Observatory stands just north and west of North 24th and Burt Streets.

Today, the Observatory is in poor condition and is inaccessible to students and visitors. It is not included in a proposed Creighton University Historic District, and as of December 2019, it hasn’t been listed on the National Register of Historic Places or designated as an official Omaha Landmark by the City of Omaha Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission.

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