Briggs ’77 Returns Abbot Telescope to PA Campus

Last week marked the long-awaited return of one of Andover’s most famous antiques, when the Abbot Academy Telescope was once again assembled on Academy grounds. Instructor in Physics John Briggs ’77 had set up the telescope in an attempt to give faculty members a chance to look through the fabled Alvin Clark & Sons Telescope; however, weather did not allow for such an event to occur. Instead, Mr. Briggs had to leave portions of the telescope outside overnight in the rain. Hundreds of students must have passed by this shrouded stand and thought nothing of it, however, the significance of the Abbot telescope is immeasurable, and holds deep roots within the spirit of the Academy. The Alvin Clark & Sons Company crafted the Abbott Academy telescope in 1875. It is a 5” diameter lens refracting telescope, and for nearly 100 years sat atop the Abbott Academy observatory. Money for purchasing this telescope was given partially by a grant, but largely by student funding. Abbott Academy needed a telescope, and the ladies of the Academy fought hard for it. With a $25,000 endowment in 1880, Abbott Academy spent a tenth of its endowment, just over $2,400, on the telescope – an astronomical fee for the time. Mr. Briggs’ first encountered the telescope while he was studying at Andover as a freshman in 1973, during its first year of co-education. At this time, studies were being consolidated to the Main Street campus, and the primary telescope was on top of former science center, Evans Hall, rendering the Abbot telescope unnecessary. As an aspiring astronomer, Mr. Briggs was enticed by the prospect of another telescope on campus, and obtained the key to the observatory. This would be the first of many experiences he would eventually share with the Abbott Telescope. In 1974, the Academy had lost almost all interest in the Abbott telescope, as it had a more powerful telescope. Refractor telescopes, like the one at Abbott campus, were becoming obsolete. The telescope was soon sold to Robert B. Alial, an antique telescope collector. Fortunately though, Andover had not seen the last of the Abbott telescope. Through his career in astronomy, Mr. Briggs eventually became acquainted with Mr. Alial and organized a trade to obtain the Abbott Telescope. At the time, Mr. Briggs possessed a 6” diameter lens telescope by the same makers of the Abbott telescope, yet it had no mounting; the Abbott telescope had its original mounting, but a 5” diameter lens, so Mr. Alial was willing to make the trade. In the future, Mr. Briggs said that he intends to assemble the Abbott Telescope on the lawn for faculty use. The telescope’s next big event will be the day after graduation, for the alumni banquet. Mr. Briggs will recreate the telescope and give a lecture on its history.