Although controversy surrounds the true location of the observatory, George Madeiros is widely recognized for building the first amateur observatory near the town of Volcano. Madeira operated the observatory from 1860 to 1862. Using his 3” refactor telescope, Madeiros saw the “Great Comet of 1861” soar across the sky, first observed by John Tebbutt of Australia on May 13.
The Great Comet was one of the brightest of all time. According to historical records and images, the Earth was actually within the comet’s tail for two days as it soared past the Earth. The comet was reported to be visible without a telescope between May and August.
George Madeiros was both a miner and an amateur astronomer. His observatory was thought to be both his home and observatory. He used sheets of cloth as the roof that he easily removed to view the stars, planets, sun and moon. By 1862, Madeiros left town and began lecturing on astronomy and writing newspaper articles. By the time he returned to Volcano in 1880, his observatory had been dismantled and completely removed from its site by 1910.
James Lick, a wealthy landowner, attended many of Madeiros’ lectures and was one of several people who inspired his interest in astronomy. According to local legend, in 1860 Madeiros told Lick "If I had your wealth ... I would construct the largest telescope possible to construct." Today, the Lick Observatory, established with a gift from James Lick, is located on Mt. Hamilton, east of San Jose and one of the University of California observatories.
Historical documents disagree on the true location of the Madeiros’ observatory. The first historical marker is located on Oak Ridge Road at what was thought to be the former site of his residence/observatory. A second marker has been placed in the town of Volcano that was also thought to be his home. This second marker is designated by the GPS coordinates. Since 1860 street names have changed and the layout of the town is also different, it is has been difficult to verify Madeiros’ residence address or the location of his observatory by using old maps and historic documents.
Amador County was one of the most productive of the “Mother Lode” counties. The mine shafts were reported to be among the deepest in the world. Mining continues in select areas today. The eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop. The relatively narrow county is aligned between the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers and roughly follows an important emigrant trail route. Gold rush camps and boom-towns abound in the history of the area. Amador County is also recognized for its dozens of vineyards and wineries.