By Linda Dillman
The Borror Observatory in the former Hoover Y-Park on Rohr Road was once a mecca for local stargazers who looked to the skies through the lens of a homemade 10-inch reflecting telescope.
Built out of concrete blocks in 1961, with a 14-foot dome donated by Columbus Astronomical Society (CAS) member Charles Worch, the observatory was a memorial to Ed Borror, who passed away in 1960 and whose financial contributions made the park possible.
According to Charles Legg—who spent many hours as a teenager volunteering at the observatory and served as its de facto director—not long after it was built, the observatory fell into disuse until Legg was approached by a member of the YMCA who told him about the situation.
“When I was16, I volunteered at COSI doing planetarium lectures and was a member of the CAS,” said Legg, 73. “I met Jim Wagner, who worked at the Southside YMCA. He told me about the situation with the observatory. He expressed concern that no one was using the observatory for its intended purpose—to provide public open houses and its use by amateur astronomers. I was fairly ambitious back then at 16, so I expressed an interest in visiting the observatory, checking the condition of the telescope and building, and seeing what I could do to help.”
Legg visited the site and found the building dirty, with spider webs everywhere, but the telescope was covered and in good condition. Wagner met with Legg’s parents, who agreed their son could help correct the situation, although his mother had reservations about her son having a key to the observatory.
“In the end, it all worked out, and there was never a problem,” said Legg. “However, my dad had to take me to the observatory and pick me up until I received my drivers’ license.
Since I was still an active member of the CAS, it was not too much trouble stirring up interest, primarily with the younger members; the 13-17-year-olds.”
According to Legg, the observatory became a focal point for younger members of the CAS.
“In some ways, members of the CAS ran its operation through me, but there was never an official connection to the CAS, we were just all members of the CAS,” said Legg. “By that time, we had formed the Junior Astronomers of Columbus. It was a rebellious time in the 1960s. Over time, I believe we disbanded and just were once again members of the CAS. We would meet on Saturday afternoons when we would clean up the building and kill the wasps who loved to build homes in the dome. They did not like the vibrations when we rotated the dome.”
Work parties on occasion addressed issues such as painting old wooden chairs in the room below the telescope and the weathering dome, which also needed a new coat of silver paint donated by a local store. Legg worked out a deal with a company to donate a gas heater for the wintertime and the Southside Y to supply the propane.
The youths were also creative in obtaining items such as a blackboard, bookcase, and a table through donations.
“Some Saturday nights, 25 to 50 people might show up, especially when something astronomical was in the news, such as a comet or a meteor shower,” said Legg. “Other members and I were on local TV shows. It was primarily to promote the observatory and get people to visit. We were on frequently for a show that followed Flippo on Channel 10. We seemed to have better attendance for a few weeks after doing the publicity. Scout groups were also frequent visitors. Some scouts were interested in getting their astronomy merit badges.”
Mini-lectures on astronomical subjects were often presented before taking visitors up to the telescope and CAS members would set up their own telescopes around the observatory for the public to view objects.
“With the observatory telescope, you could see the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, the crescent shape of Venus, the white polar cap of Mars contrasted with the red surface. All these were visible at one time or another during a year,” Legg said. “Most visitors were just amazed at what they could see when looking into the eyepiece of a telescope. They would ask, ‘Is that real, or is it a photograph?’ We would then put our hand in from of the telescope, and the object would disappear.”
Another favorite viewing destination was the moon. Legg said everyone sees the moon in the night sky all the time, but until you look at it through a high-powered telescope, you have not seen the moon.
The theft of the observatory’s original homemade telescope was discovered early one Saturday evening. Security was always a problem since the site was out in the country and rather isolated even though a caretaker lived nearby.
“We found broken windows several times, but there were not many valuable items kept there because of the problem, other than the telescope,” said Legg, who continued to be in charge of the observatory until 1968, when he graduated from high school.
A new, smaller, yet more powerful commercial reflecting telescope replaced the one stolen, but it, too, was taken after a few years. Legg believes after the second telescope disappeared, activities stopped at the observatory, but is unsure since he was attending college and no longer involved with the observatory.
Legg said he had always been a lifelong learner, and much of that learning started when he was at the YMCA Observatory and the COSI Planetarium. The observatory was special to him because it allowed him to indulge in all of his passions at one time.
“I learned from fellow amateur astronomers,” said Legg. “I was doing what I enjoyed and educated children and older adults every time we had an open house. As a side benefit, I made many friends, young and old. My strength is an extensive technical understanding; my passion is learning, doing, and teaching.”