Campus History: The Heitkamp Observatory

With the introduction of the Heitkamp Planetarium into the planned construction as part of Loras College’s 125th anniversary, an observatory and seismograph station was also considered as a complimentary project. In 1964, the board of regents authorized both projects to move forward “as funds became available.

While the planetarium underwent a longer planning and funding phase, the observatory came together quickly. Financed entirely by donations and campus gifts, the observatory was completed the same year. Chairman of the Physics Department Father Donald Hutchinson made the building dedication during the Thanksgiving vacation.

A smaller structure than its sister building, the observatory was placed in by the current tennis courts on Coyne Field, as it was the ideal spot on campus with the largest expanse of sky. The seismograph station was the only one in Iowa at the time.

The sheet-metal dome was designed to slide open to allow a full view of the sky depending on what way the telescope was facing.

In 1962, Loras College received a gift of a 12-inch Newtonian-type telescope from two alumni. That same telescope, weighing 700 pounds boasting a magnification power of 800, would be housed in the new observatory.

Like the planetarium, the observatory was named in honor of Professor George. W. Heitkamp.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).