Heyden Observatory and Gardens Outline

Construction: Erected in 1844 using the money of Brother Joseph West S.J. who gave his whole savings to Georgetown when he took his final vows.

Area: 5,066 Gross Square Feet

Architect: Constructed under the direction of Father James Curley S.J.; a renowned professor of Astronomy during the 1820s 1830s


  • The observatory is the third oldest college observatory in the United States. Only Williams College, Massachusetts and the Western Reserve, Ohio preceded Georgetown
  • In 1969, NASA’s director secured an act of Congress designating the observatory as a national monument
  • It was here that Father Curley kept a detailed record of Washington’s weather for 50 years
  • The observatory is one of two Georgetown buildings included in the national register of historic places in the United States. The other building on the register is Healy Hall.
  • Was originally deemed the Georgetown Observatory, but was changed to the Francis J. Heyden Observatory and Gardens as a tribute to the man who for a quarter of a century contributed astronomical discoveries to science
  • Observatory was officially closed in 1971 due to light pollution obstructing the ability to study the sky

Current use:

  • “The Heyden Observatory is currently used by the Georgetown University Astronomical Society as a place to promote the discussion and development of science, especially of astronomy and physics, as well as the history of science. We host our weekly meetings/open houses there, and our activities consist of stargazing and short presentations on current topics in astronomy and physics.” ~ Laura Caron, President, GUAS