The Drake Municipal Observatory was made possible by the cooperation of the City of Des Moines and Drake University. The city furnished the ground (0.23 acres) and the funds to build the observatory. The university furnished the scientific instruments, displays, and staff, including the eight and a half inch refracting telescope which was built in 1894 and donated to Drake University by Francis Marion Drake.
Constructed in 1920-21, the observatory building stands on the highest ground in the city of Des Moines. The architecture is classic of the severe Grecian type and the structure is "T" shaped in plan. Construction is load-bearing masonry with reinforced concrete floors and roof. The operable copper dome at the center of the building houses the main telescope. The exterior of the structure is gray Bedford lime stone. The building is dedicated to Daniel Walter Morehouse, Ph.D, astronomer and physicist.
In 1908, Dr. Morehouse discovered a comet (pictured below) while studying for his graduate degree at the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Donahue Comet Medal for his discovery. After earning his PhD from the University of California, he returned to Drake in 1914 as an astronomy professor. He served as University president from 1922 until his death in 1941.
Even after becoming university president, Morehouse remained an avid astronomer, teaching at least one astronomy course each semester. His ashes, and those of his wife, Myrtle, are interred inside the observatory.