Gadsden was advanced with 1938 astronomical society

By Danny By Danny "The Vagabond" Crownover

The Vagabond recently received an e-mail from David Vincent. He writes:

“My grandfather was W.H. Vincent and he lived over off of Robinson Avenue in East Gadsden. He was in a club called the Alabama Astronomical Society back in 1938. I have this old article and several old photos, some with names. I have attached photos. I have always been curious to know what ever happened to these telescopes and who the persons are in the photo. I refurbished my grandfather’s telescope that is mentioned in the article.

“I follow you on Facebook and always am interested in Gadsden history. I grew up in Southside and now live in Pelham. 

“I was wondering if you might be able to shed some light on these names and possible the old scopes. An article from back in 1938 states:

‘Gadsden undoubtedly is the most astronomical-minded city in Alabama

‘Only three or four years ago, B.L. Harrell, operator of a watch repair shop in Gadsden, became so interested in the celestial science that his efforts culminated in the construction, unaided, of an 8 and 1/2 inch telescope of the reflector type.

‘As soon as the news leaked out that he owned a sizable ‘scope,’ the amateur astronomer was swamped with visitors almost nightly, who viewed a close-up of Saturn’s rings and moons, Jupiter’s stripes and Mars’ canals for the first time. And to be sure, he was crowded on days of sun eclipses, nights of moon eclipses, comets and other heavenly phenomena.

‘Gradually, other persons became interested and more telescopes were built until now a new organization, The Alabama Astronomical Association, will celebrate its first year of activity Thursday night at the Reich Hotel in Gadsden.

‘Harrell, the rightful “father” of the association (and also president), proudly directs the group, which promises to become one of prominence. Beginning with 10 members on October of 1937, the club now claims 21 members with seven telescopes, all constructed by the members themselves.

‘Mr. Harrell now owns a 12- inch telescope, said to be the largest amateur telescope in Alabama, and one of the largest in the nation. He is a member of a unique organization called the 12-Inch Club, which until not long ago was composed of 12 amateur astronomers over the United States, each of whom owned a 12-inch telescope. None of larger diameter, built by an amateur, was known.

‘Leon Watson, a member of the club, now is grinding and polishing a 12 and ½-inch lens, which will surpass Harrell’s.

‘[The] fame of the club has so spread that astronomical-minded persons of several Alabama towns, including Birmingham, often attend meetings at Gadsden to learn new angles of astronomy from lectures by members on pulsating stars, novae and other phenomena.  [The] vice president of the organization is Sam G. Guilford and secretary [is] G .E. Halcomb.

‘These astronomers correspond with other amateurs all over the world. Much aid has been given observatories engaged in scientific research by alert amateur astronomers, who quickly note a celestial disturbance or change.

‘Thoroughly organized now, the Gadsden contingent of the association copes with every emergency which arise each time a comet, eclipse or other phenomena is made public.’”

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