PARIS — The Twitchell Observatory on Hooper Ledge will be relocated this summer to Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway where it is hoped more people, including students, will have an opportunity to see the stars.

The observatory has been host to hundreds of amateur astronomy enthusiasts over the past 20 years to view some of the most magnificent celestial bodies in the universe.

But for a core group of seasoned amateur astronomers, the time has come to say goodbye to the familiar hilltop panoramic view. On June 27, the George Howe Telescope was removed from the dome, which will be taken down soon.

The observatory is a joint effort between the Oxford Hills School District and the Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange.

SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts told school directors last month that landowners Jim and Karen Ney, who donated the use of the hilltop in 2001, notified him they plan to go in a different direction with the property.

The Western Foothills Land Trust has agreed to host the observatory at Roberts Farm Preserve on Roberts Road off Route 118. It will be in a southeast corner of the farmstead, Executive Director Lee Dassler said. An agreement will be signed to formalize the venture this summer.


“I’m so thrilled this is going to work out for the community,” Dassler said. “What a magnificent opportunity for a land trust partnering with its school district to connect heaven and earth, as well as pre-K to seniors!”

On a sunny June morning, half a dozen amateur astronomers, led by the observatory’s namesake, retired school teacher Roger Twitchell of Oxford, arrived to dismantle the 6-foot long optical fiberglass tube that holds the 13.5-inch primary mirror originally crafted in the 1870s in New York.

Removing the mirrors, which gather and focus the light from the night sky to allow the viewer to see the rings of Saturn and many other far away objects, required a careful and methodical process by Twitchell on top of a 12-foot ladder.

“The origins of the telescope and the observatory itself is a story of people who are passionate about astronomy, beginning with the original owners in New York, through to its use here in the Oxford Hills area,” Terry Robinson of Norway said.

“The observatory has the support of Roger Twitchell, former OHCHS teacher and its namesake, and a small core group of volunteer amateur astronomers who enjoy sharing their knowledge and excitement about observing the night sky with the visiting public,” she said.

Twitchell says he was simply handed a key.


“Here’s the key. Figure out what to do with it,” Twitchell said he was told by the department chairman many years ago when the observatory first opened at the high school.

Twitchell said he quickly scoured the library for astronomy books.

“I’m not an astronomer. I’m a tinkerer. I’m a mechanic,” said Twitchell, a former physics teacher at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. He insists that regardless of the observatory’s name, the success of the present day telescope was initially due to a small group of students and teachers.

“It was not a one-man show. It never was,” he said.

Twitchell, who used the observatory on the high school grounds to teach the principals of physics, and Joe Dobbins, a fellow Oxford Hills science teacher who taught an astronomy class, maintained the observatory from the time it was built on school grounds in 1972 through its relocation to Hooper Ledge in 2001.

The observatory had to be relocated after the 1995 expansion of the high school. The telescope was stored and the dome moved to a temporary location until Jim and Karen Ney donated the land on Hooper Ledge in 2000.


Over the years Twitchell continued to be the person called in the middle of the night when the dome became stuck or another mechanical problem surfaced.

Twitchell remembers some of the many dedicated amateur astronomers who would come to the hill to view the night skies.

“Dr. LaCombe would be on all-night duty at the Stephens Memorial Hospital,” he recalled. “He would carry his pager up on the hill. If there was an emergency he would run back down and come back up.”

As the observatory is relocated, Twitchell hopes more students will become involved with it.

After all, the nearly 150-year-old 13-inch mirror that made its way many years ago from New York to Maine on its original telescope to noted naturalist and teacher George Howe of Norway came inscribed with a message.

The gift was for “the benefit of the young people of Norway, Maine.”


The telescope and observatory on Hooper Ledge in Paris is being relocated this summer to Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway. (Leslie H. Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)

The Twitchell Observatory on Hooper Ledge in Paris, seen in 2011, offered a picture-perfect view of the skies. (Leslie H. Dixon/Sun Journal file photo 2011)

Dwight Burkard, Rick Chase and Roger Twitchell, right, disassemble the George Howe Telescope at the Twitchell Observatory on Hooper Ledge in Paris. The observatory is being relocated to Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway this summer. (Terry Robinson photo)

Volunteers complete removal of the George Howe Telescope at the Twitchell Observatory on Hooper Ledge in Paris. The telescope and observatory are being relocated to Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway this summer (Terry Robinson photo)

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