1869 total solar eclipse put spotlight on Kentucky as well

08/01/2017 02:56 PM

FRANKFORT – On August 21, tens of thousands of Kentuckians, as well as people from surrounding states and some foreign countries, will venture to Bowling Green, Russellville, Hopkinsville, Cadiz, Central City, Madisonville, Dawson Springs, Princeton, Eddyville, Benton, Paducah, and all points in between to view a rare natural phenomena, a total solar eclipse, where the moon totally obscures the sun.

The last time Kentucky towns were the epicenter of viewing a total solar eclipse was back on August 7, 1869.

Kentucky Historical Society History Advocate Stuart Sanders says that, like the upcoming August 21 event, the eclipse drew many visitors along its path.

“Thousands upon thousands of visitors actually came to Kentucky to view and study this major event,” Sanders said. “While this year’s eclipse will be centered more on western Kentucky, back in 1869, the eclipse essentially ran from Manchester, through Harrodsburg, on to Louisville, and up into Indiana.

One town which essentially became the epicenter to view the eclipse was Shelbyville.

“Joseph Winlock, who was a native of Shelbyville, Kentucky, came back to Shelbyville and went to Shelby College, which at the time, had the third best telescope in the nation and he actually led a major team there to study the eclipse,” Sanders said. “Shelby College became a focal point for astronomers. In addition to Winlock, there were a number of other professional astronomers that came to Shelbyville as well as a lot of other amateur astronomers as well.”

Accounts show that as the totality occurred, many observers became somewhat uncomfortable.

“When the actual eclipse was going on, even people who were viewing it, grew more and more nervous as it lasted,” Sanders said. “I think it lasted about 2 minutes and 44 seconds, but some accounts say a great cheer went up on the Shelby College campus, once it was over and sort of daylight resumed.”

Shelby College was established in 1798 by the Kentucky General Assembly and originally called Shelbyville Academy, before moving locations and having its name changed to Shelby College in 1836. The institution would be open for only 2 more years after the eclipse, shutting down in 1871.

The following is a list of times of totality for the August 21 total solar eclipse in Kentucky.


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