Chester Martin Remembers The Clarence T. Jones Observatory

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Telescope at the Jones Observatory
Telescope at the Jones Observatory

A true example of American  - and Chattanooga - ingenuity, it was Clarence T. Jones's childhood dream to build a telescope of worthy size and importance.

As a professional architect he was able to connect with all the necessary local sources to produce the handsome instrument shown here. Working with the new Barnard Astronomical Society, the telescope with all its component parts was built entirely in situ on observatory hill between Brainerd Methodist Church and Brainerd Junior HS.

In that era, there was no such thing as a parts catalog, necessitating that all component parts had to be custom made! All engineering was by local individuals who virtually donated their time, and even the mirrors were ground and polished by volunteer help on the premises.

(The optical glass is the only part which could not be produced locally). Foundry work was done locally as well, and the patterns remain in storage on location.

Funded by a Federal loan on the recommendation of Jones, himself, the observatory has been neglected, vandalized, and suffered from severe basement flooding through the years, yet remains a jewel of Chattanooga's historic legacy. It has served many generations of university Physics and Astronomy students in their researches.

When built (in the Depression era), the observatory's location was ideal, being east of Missionary Ridge. It was away from the smokestacks of the city industries and elevated well above the much dimmer street lighting than we have today. Neither was there any urban development beyond McBrien and Spring Creek Roads to the east. The Milky Way was plainly visible in summer, and other distant objects such as the famous Andromeda Galaxy were easy to detect.

However, like many of the West Coast observatories, our Jones observatory has been hurt especially by light pollution. Ever since 2009 it has been on the National Register of Historic Places, and remains a delightful tool for educational purposes, as well as for the pleasure of an interested public. 

A Cassegrainian reflector telescope, its  primary mirror is of a 20.5 inch diameter, and is owned by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Besides the telescope, the building houses a planetarium, privately donated by Estell Rockwood, deceased, of Lookout Mountain, about 1960.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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