Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Historic Loomis Letters from London, Paris

When Elias Loomis came to Hudson as a professor at the old Western Reserve College, he had been recruited with the promise that the college would send him to Europe to study observatories so he could plan one for our campus. It is believed that Loomis was the first Hudson resident to travel abroad.

Late in 1836 he sailed for Europe and spent about a year between England and France, during which time he sent home 34 "Letters from Europe" which were published in the Observer, a newspaper edited on our campus. These are fascinating letters that afford a glimpse into life in London and Paris some 170 years ago.

Transatlantic steam service had just begun when Loo
mis left aboard a 1200 ton vessel that steamed to England by way of Newfoundland. He marvelled at the ship's record speed of about 12.5 miles per hour. In London in the spring of 1837, Loomis was on hand when King William IV died and was succeeded by his 18-year old niece, Queen Victoria. It was also the year that construction began on the Houses of Parliament, but Loomis was more interested in the challenges posed by the building of the first tunnel under the Thames River.

The tunnel had been started 10 years earlier and had advanced 400 feet under the river.
In his letter dated May 11, 1837, Loomis reports that "they have lately recommenced and have advanced to upwards of 650 feet in length, about half of the contemplated length of the tunnel." He then describes what he observed of the "quite ingenious" method of construction. The tunnel would be wide enough for carriages to pass one another without a problem.

Other letters deal with his visits to Oxford and Cambridge where he noted that student living conditions seemed luxurious compared to those in Hudson. As a mathematics teacher, Loomis was surprised that so little attention was paid to math at Oxford, while Cambridge was strong in both math and science and also possessed an observatory that had opened in 1824. Its design probably had a strong influence on the observatory built here in Hudson upon Loomis's return.

In France Loomis traveled on a coach called a diligence that could carry 20 passengers "divided into classes" depending on the fare. Several letters deal with his visit to the Tuilleries Gardens, the palace at Versailles and the newly erected Madeleine. He had some harsh comments for the desecration of buildings in order to erase or restore the fleur-de-lis emblems of the Bourbon monarchs. He also was aware that France was something of a police state with informers lurking everywhere - even in this era of the "citizen king" Louis Philippe.

Professor Loomis's expenses for his year in Europe came to $1086 which probably caused some consternation for the cash-poor Western Reserve College. Loomis Observatory opened in September of 1838 and still contains the original telescopes that were purchased in London at a cost of $1750. Photo images of Loomis's original letters from abroad are available for viewing on microfilm at the Hudson Public Library.