Here, on the highest point of the original campus, stands the first celestial observatory at The University of Alabama and one of the oldest observatory buildings in the United States. Through the efforts of Professor F. A . P. Barnard, the first section of this building was completed in 1844. Prominently visible today are both the eighteen-foot dome and the north-south ceiling aperture above the west wing. Under the dome, Barnard installed an eight-inch refracting telescope, and for the northwest aperture, he installed a transit circle—a telescope to measure the time of meridian passage and altitude of a celestial body.
In 1858, a large classroom was added as an east wing, and today it is the oldest classroom on campus. Although ransacked by Union troops on April 4, 1865, the Observatory was one of only four structures to survive the destruction of the campus. Early in the twentieth century, the building was used for student housing. Rep. Carl Elliot lived here as an undergraduate. Later, offices for various University agencies were located here, and in 1986 the structure was named in honor of Fred R. Maxwell, Jr. for his long and dedicated service to the University. In 1993, the building was refurbished for the use of New College's External Degree and Computer-Based Honors Programs.