Just down the road from Lake Geneva in nearby Williams Bay resides Yerkes Observatory, home to three telescopes including the 40-inch refractor, the largest refracting telescope in the world.   This one-of-a-kind marvel is housed in a 90-foot dome, one of the largest of its kind ever built, and the 73-foot wooden floor surrounding the telescope is actually an elevator that raises star gazers to the eyepiece for a peak at the Milky Way and beyond.

Yerkes Observatory sits on a picturesque 77 acre park-like setting that could double as a nature reserve if it wasn’t for the 100 year-old structure.   In fact, it’s a great spot for a fall picnic and you’ll often see families enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

The observatory was bankrolled in 1897 by Charles Tyson Yerkes, a Chicago transportation tycoon. The plan itself was masterminded by George Ellery Hale, who subsequently built still other "world's largest" (reflecting) telescopes in southern California . Hale also founded the American Astronomical Society in 1897 and co-founded the Astrophysical Journal, which was edited at Yerkes until 1965.   Yerkes Observatory is currently a research branch of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the University of Chicago.

Free public tours of Yerkes are offered every Saturday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon.   Highlights of the tour include a brief history of the facility, a timeline display chronicling the Observatory’s early history (be sure to look for the photo of Albert Einstein’s visit to Yerkes) and of course, a tour of the telescope.   A gift shop offers authentic meteorites, VCR tapes, color postcards, T-shirts, sweatshirts, scientific kits, books, guides to the stars and planets, and many other science and astronomy-related items.   And speaking of stars, Yerkes served as a main location in the 1996 Keanu Reeves film Chain Reaction.