Mt. Wilson Historical Timeline

Although George Ellery Hale only enters the timeline below once, he was the driving force behind the rich astronomical story at Mt. Wilson. Please see The History of Mount Wilson Observatory: Bringing Astronomy to an Isolated Mountaintop for his story.

1864Benjamin D. "Don Benito" Wilson hires Mexicans and Indians to transform an old Indian path up Little Santa Anita Canyon into a trail in order to cut down the trees on top of Mt. Wilson to build fences and wine barrels. This was the first modern trail in the front range.
Wilson builds a Halfway House at what is now called Orchard Camp, consisting of a three-room cabin, a stable, a blacksmith's shop and a chicken house. When Wilson got to the top, he discovered the remains of two log cabins, whose builders are lost to history. Wilson abandoned logging after a few weeks, perhaps because he didn't like the wood.
1866George Islip takes over the Halfway House, and plants fruit trees, giving rise to the name Orchard Camp.
1877John Muir climbs to a point near Mt. Wilson.
~<1880Islip abandons Orchard Camp.
1880sUp to 70 hikers and horse-riders climb the trail to camp at Mt. Wilson on weekends, building huge bonfires at the peak to signal their safe arrival.
1887Government surveyors attempt to change the name of Mt. Wilson to Mount Kenneyloa. Harrison Gray Otis wrote a scathing editorial in the L.A. Times, and the name wasn't changed. (The editorial is in SG, p. 115.)
1889Harvard Professor William Pickering and telescope maker Alvan Clark use a 4" telescope and determine that Mt. Wilson would be an excellent site for an astronomical telescope.
A 13" telescope from Harvard weighing 3700 pounds is carried up the Mt. Wilson Trail by six men and two horses, with the trail being "improved" by dynamite where needed. Within a year, a "star map of the heavens" is completed which included "many objects never heretofore viewed".
Peter Steil opens a tent camp in the Harvard - Wilson Saddle.
The Pasadena & Mount Wilson Toll Road Company was incorporated to build a wagon road to Mt. Wilson.
1890The wagon road to Mt. Wilson proves too costly, and a 4' wide trail is proposed instead of a 12' roadway.
1000 people stay at Steil's camp in the summer.
The Mount Wilson War begins when A.G. Strain erects a fence across the Mt. Wilson Trail, which was ripped down by Steil. The War caused only property damage and a lawsuit.
1891The Court rules that the Mt. Wilson Trail is a "public highway, and cannot be closed against travel".
Strain opens a tent camp near the summit, which also becomes popular, to a capacity of 60 people.
Steil sells to Clarence S. Martin, who builds a frame dining room, enough tents for Camp Wilson, better known as Martin's Camp, to sleep 40 people, and a water tunnel below Mt. Wilson with pipes to bring water to his camp.
The 13" telescope is removed, probably in part due to a dispute with USC over land ownership of its site.
Pasadena Contractor Thomas Banbury with a crew of 25 men builds the 10 mile "New Mount Wilson Trail", aka the Toll Road, in five months. It opens in June with a toll of 25 cents round trip for hikers and 50 cent for horseback riders. Its maximum 10% grade makes it more popular than the steeper Mt. Wilson Trail.
1890sBoth Martin's and Strain's camps are full nearly every summer weekend. Hundreds of people use the Toll Road on weekends, stopping at Captain Henninger's house and George Schneider's Halfway House near the Idlehour Trail junction.
1892President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard visits Mt. Wilson. Martin offers him 10 acres on the unnamed high point south of the saddle for a 24" telescope, and christens it "Mount Harvard". Despite that offer and honor, the 24" telescope went to Peru.
1895Mount Wilson Toll Road Company purchases Henninger Flats.
1896Mount Wilson Toll Road Company purchases Martin's and Strain's camps.
1901Mount Wilson Toll Road Company purchases 640 acres on the mountaintop for $800 from the U.S. Land Office, eventually expanding its holdings to 1050 acres.
1903Mt. Wilson determined to be one of the five best sites in southwestern California for an astronomical telescope by Professor W.J. Hussey of Lick Observatory.
George Ellery Hale visits Mt. Wilson for the first time on June 25, is "ecstatic" over the excellent observing conditions, and decides to build his observatory at Mt. Wilson.
1905Carnegie Institute granted a 99-year lease for 40 acres for telescopes.
Toll Road Company constructs the first Mt. Wilson Hotel.
1905Snow Solar Telescope temporarily relocated from Yerkes Observatory to Mt. Wilson
1907Carnegie Institute widens Toll Road to 10' so that larger telescopes can be transported. The work is done by 200 Japanese laborers using mule-drawn scrapers and plows. Sandbags are used to build retaining walls.
190860' Solar Tower Telescope completed.
60" reflector operational and becomes world's largest telescope for almost 10 years until surpassed by the Mt. Wilson 100" telescope.
1910150' Solar Tower Telescope completed.
1913First Mt. Wilson Hotel burns down.
1913Second, larger, Mt. Wilson Hotel built, lasts for 53 years until it is demolished in 1966.
1917100" Hooker Reflector telescope operational and becomes world's largest telescope for 31 years until surpassed by the 200" Palomar Telescope in 1948. The 200" telescope was built directly as a result of the stunning achievements of the Hooker Telescope.
1912Toll Road opens to public automobiles until 1936.
1935Angeles Crest Road / Red Box road to Mt. Wilson completed.
1936Toll Road closed to public travel and given to Forest Service.
1948First TV / radio antenna installed, followed quickly by many more.
1964Metromedia purchases the 720 acres of the Mt. Wilson Hotel Company.
1966Mt. Wilson Hotel razed for Skyline Park.
1967Skyline Park opens with the Pavilion, picnic plazas and Children's Zoo.
1976Skyline Park closes after losing money for 8.5 years.
Metromedia deeds its 1100 acres to The Nature Conservancy, who deeds it to the Forest Service, except for two small parcels of private land.
1984Carnegie Institute plans to close Mt. Wilson observatories to focus its resources on its telescopes in Chile.
1985Hooker telescope closed. The other telescopes remain operational.
1986Mt. Wilson Institute formed.
1988UC Berkeley's Infrared Spatial Interferometer, consisting of two 65" telescopes mounted in semi-trailers, begins operation.
1989Mt. Wilson Institute begins operation of the Carnegie Mt. Wilson telescopes, and the 100" is opened sometime before 2000.
1996Construction begins for six 1 m telescopes by the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy at Georgia State University. This will be the largest optical interferometric array ever built. Mt. Wilson was chosen on the basis of the excellent atmospheric stability, the number of clear nights available, and the infrastructure available here. The Telescopes were installed in 1999. The facility should be operational by the end of 2000.

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Copyright © 2000 by Tom Chester and Jane Strong
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Updated 24 October 2000.