John Henry Darling, a civil engineer from Michigan, came to Duluth in 1884 when he was appointed principal assistant engineer for harbor improvements on Lake Superior, Duluth district. He was heavily involved in the development of the Duluth harbor, the piers, and the breakwater. When he retired in 1913, he focused his energies on travel and his hobby of astronomy.
In 1915, Mr. Darling asked the Duluth City Council for permission to construct, at his own expense, an observatory that would be open to the public to allow people to view celestial objects and to educate them in astronomy. The Council granted him the necessary permission on December 6, 1915, and construction began the following year on a site at Ninth Avenue West and Third Street, next to a city playground and near Mr. Darling’s home at 532 West Third Street. Complications regarding the completion of the steel dome caused delays, but the observatory opened in May of 1917, with a long waiting list of people interested to use it. The total cost of the building and equipment was about $12,000, paid entirely by Mr. Darling.
The Darling Observatory had a steel dome 19 feet in diameter and a nine-inch refracting telescope. The building was open six or seven evenings each month for public viewing and lectures on astronomy. Mr. Darling personally oversaw the operations for years and, when he grew too old, hired an assistant. When Mr. Darling died in 1942, at the age of 95, the building was turned over to the city of Duluth. It later became the property of UMD, which operated the observatory into the 1960s. The building was torn down in 1972.