Observatory: The Richmond Astronomcal Society (RAS) owns an observatory (the Ragland Observatory) with a seven inch refractor telescope for the use of qualified members. Any regular RAS member may become an observatory staff member by taking a short course of instruction in proper use of the equipment, and by paying a small additional fee.
Donated telescopes are loaned to members as they become available. Let me know and I’ll put you on the waiting list. Call or email me and I’ll arrange for demonstration, delivery, and a little paperwork.
Good seeing! John Raymond, RAS Observatory Director
History of the Ragland Observatory
The RAS was founded in 1949 primarily by the efforts of Wilbur Stone, the first president. He encouraged members to use his private observatory, “Hanes Avenue Staion”, in the early years. Records show that by 1955 RAS members were discussing and debating: if, when and how would an RAS owned observatory come into being. In 1957, under the leadership of RAS president Beaufort (“Blu”) Ragland, all members were asked to donate $300 each for the land acquisition, incorporation of the society,building construction and the costs of machining and fabricating the new 7” f/15 refractor, mount, and drive. $300 was a lot back in the ’50’s. Some members gave money, some gave their skills and labor, some gave both, and some left the society.
Members donated possessions, time and money for some 5 or 6 years before the first light in January, 1963. In particular: Wilbur Stone donated his 3.5” f/15 refractor – still used as a guide scope; Blu Ragland donated the land
that now belongs to the RAS as long as it uses the land for astronomical purposes; Rev. James Vaughan donated the 7” lens; Henry Stockmar was the observatory architect, Tom Ogburn was project manager and civil engineer, John Roberts electrical engineer, Harvey Walls master machinist, Blu Ragland mechanical engineer, and about 12 others who excavated the site by hand and poured concrete for several years. The facility was built by RAS amateur astronomers, including the telescope (except for the lens, made by the firm of Mogey of New Jersey, circa 1930’s), the mount, gearing, rings, the pier, landscaping,and the entire building.
Indeed, some of them left their intitials atop the cylindrical concrete retaining wall that supports the wood platform about the pier – Tom Ogburn, Henry Stockmar, Wilbur Stone, Frank Clark, John Fields, and Joseph Higdon. Also they inscribed this: “ We do good work ”. The date inscribed then was Aug 2, 1962.
“Blu” Ragland died in August, 1961. Since he was the prime mover of the RAS Observatory, but never saw its completion, it was named the “Ragland Observatory”.
The observatory saw a measure of fame during the 70’s when observers there supplied almost half the central meridian transit timings of Jovian storms and spotted the start of a global dust storm on Mars. Recently observations of solar activity have been regularly submitted to solar astronomers. The long, unobstructed focal ratio of the telescope, with new H-alpha filters, has enabled it to be very useful in solar work.
The huge increase in light pollution brought about by commercial and residential expansion in the area since the 60’s greatly limits its uses for dark sky applications such as galaxies or comets. The bright planets and binary stars, and the lunar and solar applications are not affected.
The facility lends itself best for for small group activities (about 5 to 25 visitors), such as scout troops, sunday school classes, school groups. Unlike the typical scope set up at a parking lot, this has- well, class. It actually looks like a telescope!