WILLIAMS BAY

Activities at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay will “wind down” over the next six months and effectively halt by Oct. 1, University of Chicago officials announced in a statement Wednesday.

“(Yerkes) is an important part of the history of the university, and we hope it will become, in some form, a valuable resource to the surrounding community and visitors to the Lake Geneva area,” Edward Kolb, a professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the university, said in the statement.

Jeremy Manier, a spokesman with the university, told The Gazette in an email the university owns the building and the 77-acre site in Williams Bay. Manier said the long-term use “has not yet been determined,” and the announcement is coming early so the university can engage with Yerkes staff and Williams Bay officials to consider its future.

A university representative will be discussing possibilities with the village leadership for the site beginning this month, according to the statement.

Before the Yerkes Observatory was founded in Williams Bay in 1897, the telescope’s mount and tube were on display at the 1892 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Yerkes now refers to itself as “the birthplace of modern astrophysics.”

Several well-known astrophysicists, including Edwin Hubble and Carl Sagan, earned their Ph.D.s at Yerkes. Albert Einstein visited the observatory in 1921.

Since the 1960s, the university’s observational astronomy research has shifted to various sites around the globe and to space. Operating Yerkes “from a programmatic or cost standpoint” no longer makes sense, university executive vice president said David Fithian said in the release.

“We currently have no specific plans nor have we approached any potential buyers,” Fithian said.

All activities and events scheduled throughout the summer will continue, and the university will accept new bookings on a case-by-case basis until Oct. 1, according to the statement.

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