Early History Of The LHAAC

Originally presented by Ward Edgerton

After taking a course in astronomy at the old Torrington High School in the early part of 1956, a group of students decided to organize a club to continue their scientific interests.  Their instructor, George Mahoney of Harwinton, readily agreed to the club’s formation.  An informal group of 13 people met on March 22nd, 1956, at the Torrington Y.M.C.A., and it was decided to hold regular meetings on the second Thursday of the month.  The club was not officially named for several months thereafter.

Due to space limitations at the Y.M.C.A., the second group meeting was moved to New Hartford, where William Goodwin demonstrated mirror grinding to a group of 16 people, along with observing the stars and planets through several of his telescopes.  A “short” meeting elected the group’s first officers:

President—Willard Baldauf
Vice-President—George Mahoney
Secretary—Miss Adeline DeAngelis
Treasurer—William Goodwin
Publicity—Mrs. Sally Hemingway

Two meetings during the first year were held at the Grange Club House in Torrington, before repairs caused the group to convene elsewhere, or at other member’s homes.  Later, these far-traveling astronomical vagabonds adopted the name “Litchfield Hills” into the complete name of the local club.  The members discussed several other meeting sites during the first year, but all their efforts were unsuccessful.  The officers formed the club’s constitution and bylaws, where annual dues were first set at $3.00.  The format of the club’s meeting featured an evening lecture, slide show or movie, by one of the members or an invited speaker, along with the typical business meeting.  These programs were intended to be interesting, fun, and educational.  Following each program was a discussion period, which was sometimes noted as being “heated”, and refreshments were served at most of the meetings.  Years later, the club included magazine subscriptions along with their dues.  These traditions have been continued to the present time.

Several projects were started during the club’s first year, including the making of a 10-inch diameter mirror as part of a club telescope, and construction of a large-scale map of the Moon.  By April of 1957, William Goodwin received local recognition for his great photographs of Comet Arend-Roland.  His photograph of this “true” astronomical vagabond appeared on the club’s first membership cards, and was continued for years thereafter.  In May of 1957, the club’s first field trip found several members visiting the Van Vleck Observatory at Wesleyan University in Middletown.  By the end of the first year, the club had 26 members.  Its bank balance was just $80.24, not quite an astronomical sum by any means.

In the fall of 1957, the members discussed the launch of the Sputnik satellite.  Several of the club members were photographed for a newspaper article that appeared in the Waterbury Republican on October 20-th, under the headline AREA AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS FIND SPUTNIK..…PUSHES NORMAL SKY-SHOW INTO BACK SEAT.  These were exciting times for space-related activities!

By mid-1958, the club’s meeting night was moved to the second Friday of the month, but it wasn’t until October of 1958, that a semi-permanent meeting place was found.  Gilbert High School faculty member William Graves obtained the use of a classroom for these evening meetings.  Graves had also written an article on gravitational theory that was published in the American Journal of Physics.  The evening programs continued with lectures on the stars, planets, and other heavenly objects.  One highlight of the second year’s activities was a trip to Housatonic Regional High School in Falls Village, to hear Dr. Harlow Shapley of Harvard talk about galaxies.  Shapley later posed for a picture with several of the club members and answered their many questions. 

The early history of the club was later formally written by Ward Edgerton and presented at the club’s 100th meeting in March of 1964.  Founding club members who were still active in the club are Paul Pompa and Joe Zimmerman, who have both recently passed away and will be fondly remembered.

Founding Members Paul Pompa and Joe Zimmerman in 2007
Litchfield Hills Amateur Astronomy Club