It was the time service which really triggered the expansion of the astronomy department. when a St. Paul jeweler offered to give $5,000 to Carleton for the purchase of a German meridian circle to improve the accuracy of its time calculations. The Board of Trustees agreed to the deal with little hesitation. Astronomy was clearly the College's most vital and important program in the 1880s, and this made the Trustees' decision to support expansion of the observatory and its activities quite natural. A state-of-the-art 5" meridian circle was duly ordered from the Repsold company. Before the jeweler could pay on his pledge, he died, and a desperate appeal was made to railroad magnate James J. Hill, whose railroad benefited from the Carleton time-service and who came through with the money.
Whether by accident or design, the Repsold instrument was far too large to fit into the Carleton Observatory, and Payne appealed to the Board of Trustees to authorize the construction of a new building. All things considered, the trustees had little choice, and the cornerstone of the new observatory was laid amidst much pomp and circumstance in October of 1886.
At the ceremony, Payne made a speech that summed up both the philosophy and the proposed program of astronomy at Carleton. As for philosophy, he made it very clear that "This college believes in science that has Christianity and God in it, and is willing to avow that belief.... It believes in the methods of modern science for acquiring that kind of truth, but it denies that it is either the nature or effect of such truth to put the Almighty Creator out of the material universe, but rather to reveal the harmonies of his sovereign divine will."
His words sound strange, perhaps, to modern ears, but such a synthesis of science and religion would have been commonplace to Protestant educators in the 19th century and were, indeed, an echo of the very ideals of the creators of Carleton. This echo was particularly appropriate because the new building was to be named for the school's founder, Deacon Charles Moorehouse Goodsell, whose dream it had been to see in Northfield "a new Northwestern Oberlin: unsectarian, but filled with the Spirit...."
It would have been no surprise to Goodsell, had he lived to hear Payne's address, that the same speech which spoke of God in the heavens also laid out an ambitious and practical program of scientific and educational work for the observatory. "The plan of work is three-fold: Undergraduate instruction, fully illustrated by observation; a school for practical astronomy that will prepare students for professorships in astronomy and mathematics, or positions in astronomical observatories; and original research with special reference to solar studies. This plan is unique and furnishes a line of work not elsewhere found in this country." The idea of establishing a graduate program in applied astronomy and pure mathematics, organized on the most rigorous model-then the German University system-was one which Payne kept alive for another decade, and almost succeeded in pulling off. The astronomy department did award five Ph.D.s in the 1890s, mostly to Carleton graduates, but the Board of Trustees was never to become enthused by the prospect of establishing a formal graduate school.
However, everyone seemed enthusiastic about the new Romanesque observatory, which was unveiled to wide acclaim-including a two page spread in American Architect and Building News. It took five years for the observatory to be fully equipped and dedicated, although the building was occupied in 1887 and completed in 1888.
The wait, though, proved worthwhile. In 1890 Dr. Edward H. Williams of Philadelphia, who had endowed Carleton's first science building, donated $15,000 for a 16.2" refractor to occupy the observatory's large dome. Manufactured by the famous John Brashear of Pennsylvania, with glass from Paris and Lena, the telescope was 22 feet long, weighed 27,000 pounds (including the pedestal), and had to be hoisted in through the slit in the already completed dome. When it was installed, the scope was the sixth largest in the U.S. and the 12th largest in the world. (It remained the largest in Minnesota until 1969.) Within a couple of years on either side of acquiring the new telescope, Payne was also able to purchase a spectroscope and camera outfit for the Clark refractor.