The History of the Kropscott Farm Environmental Center
and the Stephen F. Wessling Observatory

An environmental center and astronomical observatory are highly unique for a rural county and we are fortunate to have such facilities, right here in Newaygo County!

The Stephen F. Wessling Observatory, completed in 2005, is located 6 miles north of the city of Fremont, Michigan, on the corner of Baseline and Stone Road. The Observatory is located on the Kropscott centennial farm which was donated to the Newaygo Conservation District (NCD) by Earle and Mildred Kropscott in 1998. Today, the property is widely known as the Kropscott Farm Environmental Center.

One may wonder how this centennial farm – owned by the same family for over a hundred years -became an environmental center and observatory. Indeed, the history surrounding this event is as fascinating as the facilities themselves! It all started in the late 1800’s.

In 1895 Levi Kropscott, graduated from North Indiana Business institute, Valparaiso, Indiana. While at the Institute a professor advised that there would soon be a major depression in business and the safest place for money would be in land. He learned from neighbors in Overisel, Michigan that there was inexpensive land in the Fremont Michigan area. He decided to purchase 80 acres in Denver Township for $1,600. About 35 acres was cleared for farming and the balance was virgin hardwoods.

In the spring of 1896, Levi decided to build a house on his farm. Levi cleared about 10 acres for extra farming and five (5) additional acres when Levi’s son Earle, born in 1913, was about 10 or 12 years old. He taught Earle to scale logs, fell trees, and plow a straight furrow with a horse-drawn plow.

On June 14, 1938, Earle married Mildred Baron and joined the Dow Chemical Company in 1937 as a plastic specialist and manager. Earle worked for the company for 40 years, retiring in 1977.

Earle and Stephen F. Wessling, a retired earth science teacher from the Fremont Public Schools, were good friends and both graduated from Hope College. Earle knew of Mr. Wessling’s passion for both education and astronomy, so in 1998 Earle and Mildred donated their 80-acre centennial farm to the Newaygo Conservation District. The donation was made with the understanding that the property and house were to be used as an environmental, agricultural and education center and that Mr.Wessling oversee the construction of an observatory and operate it upon completion. . And that is when the adventure really began!

In conjunction with the Kropscott Environmental Center, the SFW Observatory's goal is to provide the general public, area students, and local and regional amateur astronomers the opportunity to observe and study the amazing universe in which we live. Newaygo County is blessed with ‘dark skies’, therefore interested people from West Michigan, Northern Indiana and Eastern Illinois also visit the observatory to take advantage of the dark skies.

The observatory contains numerous telescopes of various designs and sizes including:an 18” Obsession reflector,the 12.5” Raymond B. Larson telescope donated to the NCD by the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association, and a variety of 6” to 8” computerized and non-computerized reflecting telescopes. All of these are available for the public to view and personally operate with the assistance of the Newaygo County Dark Sky Astronomers.

The observatory is provided with high speed internet by Newaygo County Advanced Technology Services (NCATS). Directed by Dr. Larry Ivens, this service allowed on-line radio astronomy research to begin in 2012, with the addition of a non-site antenna installation in April. Data from Jupiter and the sun downloads directly to the Grand Valley State University computer for analysis. Additional research is scheduled for 2013.

On behalf of the NCD, Newaygo County Dark Sky Astronomers (NCDSA) operates the observatory under the direction of Mr.Wessling and Mrs. Claflin, a science teacher with Hesperia, Public Schools. NCDSA welcomes new members of all ages and interest levels, from the first-time astronomer to the serious observer. Everyone is invited to their meetings which are held the third Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the observatory, May through October. Winter meetings are held at the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce office at 7 East Main Street, Fremont, Michigan.Information regarding the observatory is on the web at www.sfwobservatory.org.

The next step of this adventure started in October, 2012 with the Kropscott home once again being remodeled. Part of the home now contains two research labs for a wide variety of environmental and agricultural research and education. Included is the study and research of flowers, birds and trees, soils and aquatic 'creatures' , just to name a few! The facilities are available to West Michigan school districts, home school organizations, environmental agencies and other interested parties. Professional education for area teachers is also be available. Most recently, the Kropscott barn has been renovated (video) to house a large group demonstration/education area, a Newaygo County agricultural history area and much needed storage.

All together the Kropscott Farm Environmental Center contains an operating farm, a 30+ acre woods (soon to include a primitive campsite) with nature trails, an observatory, and environmental research laboratories. All of the buildings and areas within the KFEC are handicapped accessible!

As an added convenience, and for a modest price, a 30 amp RV hookup is available for those astronomers and researchers who wish to stay in their recreational vehicle overnight. Is this unique for a rural county in Michigan? You bet it is, and it would be for any rural county in the U.S.! Education is the key