Bid made for Yerkes Observatory

Aurora University's bid to buy the historic Wisconsin observatory would yield an astronomy outreach center and expand AU's campus.
By | Published: September 30, 2005 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Yerkes Observatory
Aurora University has submitted an offer to buy Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
University of Chicago
Aurora University has offered $4.5 million to purchase Yerkes Observatory, its buildings, and 79 acres of property. The University of Chicago, which owns the Williams Bay observatory, has considered a sale since summer 2004.

Aurora University’s George Williams campus is adjacent to the observatory. Its proposal called for preserving the historic observatory and using the building as a science center, establishing a nature preserve, and expanding their campus to the remaining landscape. The university would also develop 11 lots into single-family housing. Proceeds from these lot sales in excess of the tendered offer would help establish a Yerkes endowment.

“Our goal is to maximize the long-term educational use of one of America’s significant scientific icons and to preserve its physical structure and heritage,” explains Rebecca Sherrick, president of Aurora University. “We are very conscious of the genuine pride that local residents take in Yerkes and the lake community’s dedication to responsible development and careful stewardship of the environment. The university’s plan is to balance the preservation and conservation of the land and the facility, while at the same time meeting the needs of Aurora University and the local community.”

Aurora also hopes to develop academic partnerships at Yerkes with Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum and other universities in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Kyle Cudworth, the observatory’s director and only full-time researcher, is pleased with Aurora’s proposal.

“Aurora University, already active in outreach at Yerkes, would definitely help expand on that,” Cudworth told Astronomy. “With research winding down and not such a part of Yerkes, this is where we are going.” Cudworth added that Aurora has assisted with teacher workshops at the observatory throughout the summer.

The University of Chicago’s declining interest in the observatory has spurred the sale. With frequently cloudy skies, southeast Wisconsin is not a hub of astronomical study, like the American southwest or Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Therefore, the university has made research at Yerkes a low priority. The observatory’s sale would help the University of Chicago develop a new building for the department of astronomy and astrophysics on its campus.

You can read the complete Aurora University proposal here.