MVAS History

The Miami Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS) began in 1918 as the Dayton Astronomical Society (DAS), and was the first formally organized group of amateur astronomers in the Dayton area. Founded around the time of the first world war, one of its founding members was Colonel Edward Deeds, then president of the National Cash Register Company. His home, now known as the Moraine Farm, is located in southwest Kettering. It includes an observatory that houses a 7" refractor dating from Deed's time of residence.

Through the 1920's and early 30's, membership and activity in the society declined. About 1935, a new organization called the Dayton Amateur Telescope Makers was organized, offering an alternative to the DAS. As the name suggests, this new organization focused on telescope construction rather than astronomy in general. As a loosely organized group, they met weekly in members' homes. One of the better known members, Cash Durst, fabricated several hundred mirrors, grinding and polishing each one by hand. Young people unable to buy a finished telescope would often grind a mirror and take it to Durst for polishing. These mirrors were usually superior to commercial mirrors. (Such is often still the case.)

Activity of the Telescope Makers effectively stopped in 1941 when the second world war broke out. No meetings were held for the duration of the war.

Following WWII, interest in astronomy increased. The last President of the Telescope Makers, Frank Sutter, began to receive phone calls and letters from former club members and others interested in astronomy. Meetings started and participation rapidly outgrew the space available in members' homes, which were still being used as meeting locations. Mr. Sutter, who had been teaching basic astronomy at the Dayton Public Library Museum, forerunner of the Dayton Museum of Natural History, arranged for the use of the Library Museum as a meeting place.

In the mid 1950s, the city of Dayton decided that the corner of Second and Jefferson would better serve the city as a parking lot, thereby forcing the Library Museum to move. The Dayton-Montgomery County Library relocated to the corner of Third and St Clair. The Museum launched a funding drive to build an independent facility on Ridge Avenue, near Triangle Park and its current location. The Telescope Makers moved along with the Museum.

The Miami Valley Astronomical Society

In 1957, the Dayton Amateur Telescope Makers decided to incorporate as a non-profit organization and renamed themselves the Miami Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS), thereby reflecting the broad interests in astronomy reflected in the membership. With the completion of the Dayton Museum of Natural History in 1958, the MVAS also found a permanent meeting place.

With the opening of the Museum, Mr. Sutter and the new MVAS continued to offer classes in beginning astronomy. One aspect of this effort was a homemade planetarium constructed by the MVAS. Sewn from fabric, the "planetarium" was used in many Museum programs. Recognizing the value of a "real" planetarium, the Museum and the MVAS combined efforts and successfully attracted funding from the Junior League of Dayton for construction of a real planetarium at the Museum.

Through the early and mid 1960's, the primary goal of the MVAS was to establish an observatory. Initially, a small building was erected at the Englewood Reserve which housed a 12" Schmidt Newtonian telescope made by a local Dayton firm, Optron, Inc. Finally, in the late 1960's, the Museum received a large grant and chose to build a major observatory on Museum grounds.

The Apollo & Junior Observatories

Named after NASA’s Apollo Program, the Apollo Observatory was dedicated in 1969. The first major task was to equip the new observatory. Because of its unique location in the vicinity of a major Air Force research and development arm at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB), the MVAS has long benefited from an infusion of top-notch technical talent. With funds raised by both the Museum and the MVAS, a design by Richard Buchroeder was selected and built by members of the Society, many of whom worked in optics and engineering disciplines for the Air Force. Due to the selected design, the optical train was complex and turned out to be problematic to maintain. It was therefore later modified to a simpler Dall-Kirkham Cassegrainian design.

In 1971, a "Junior" Observatory was built behind the Apollo Observatory. This facility was designed for training people in the use of telescopes of various types. Young members of the MVAS provided the majority of the labor necessary for the construction of the observatory, and funded by the Kiwanis.

John Bryan Observatory

In the late 1960’s the Air Force constructed a top-secret facility at what is now John Bryan State Park Observatory (JBSPO), a few miles northeast of Yellow Springs, OH. The observatory housed two telescopes, one on a modified Baker-Nunn four-axis mount, for tracking and taking photometric measurements of Soviet satellites and experimental aircraft.

By the mid-1970’s the site was abandoned, its defense function being replaced by a new facility on Maui. The Air Force telescopes and instrumentation were removed and the property reverted to the State of Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The building lay dormant until 1977, when the MVAS obtained a lease from the ODNR in order to use the building as its primary dark sky site.

Although the light pollution has increased significantly over the years, the JBSPO facility is still a premier amateur facility that sees regular, year-round use.

The MVAS Today

Today, the MVAS is one of the larger astronomical societies in the Great Lakes area. We offer our members a variety of services and facilities, as well as education and social fellowship, and public programs.