HISTORY OF HARTNESS HOUSE (Our 2017 Festival Venue)
The Hartness Mansion
The story of one man’s life, James Hartness (biography), provides insight into the history of Hartness House, one of America’s most unique country inns and a Vermont historical landmark. Its worldwide reputation is due in part to the reputation of its namesake. Its architectural style and its historic background have caused it to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The early part of this century saw Springfield emerge as a machine tool center due largely to the visionary daring and inventiveness of James Hartness.
In l888 Jones and Lamson, a company which had produced everything from wrenches to rifles, was moved by oxcart from Windsor to Springfield. Hartness joined J&L in April 1889 as superintendent. Two years later, he invented the flat turret lathe, one of the most important machine tools ever made. Throughout his life, Hartness never stopped producing ideas, and from 1886 to 1933, he patented 120 different machines. They ranged from the flat turret lathe and optical comparator to a safety razor and a telescope. Hartness was also an influence over the lives and work of men associated with him. Ed R. Fellows developed a gear shaper, William Bryant conceived the internal chucking grinder, Fred Lovejoy developed inexpensive cutting tools for high speeds, and George Gridley invented the single-spindle automatic lathe. Many other talented inventors were also associated with Hartness, including Russell Printer, John Lovely, George Perry and Ralph Flanders.
Springfield became such a major manufacturing center that it was listed as number seven on Hitler’s list of cities to bomb during World War II. The town itself is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hartness’ avocations were interesting and illuminating. His business career followed the general lines of other successful executives. His excursion into aviation throws a side light on the range of his interests. As a public servant and as Governor of Vermont from 1921 to 1923, he always met the challenge and he earned a place in history books. His life represents the Spirit of the New Age at its best. It has been said that “his success was honorably earned and the best of it all was that it neither softened him nor hardened him, nor cost him a friendship.”
The Hartness Telescope and Observatory
James Hartness’s interest in astronomy and flight adds another dimension to his colorful personality. On the front lawn to the left of our entrance can be seen the Hartness Equatorial Turret Telescope, built in 1910. It was one of the first tracking telescopes in America. In 1908, Hartness began designing his telescope. He designed what is known as a coude (elbow) telescope. In this system, the light is bent 90 degrees to the eyepiece by a prism at the base of the telescope tube. It is this design which allows the observer the comfort of a heated room and puts the telescope tube outside and away from the warm air. John A. Brashear supplied Hartness with the optics for his telescope. The object lens is 10-inches in diameter, magnifies images 600 times and has a 150-inch focal length. To build a tracking telescope, Hartness pointed the middle of his turret (dome) at the North Star, creating a polar axis. The turret rotates along the same angle as the plane of the equator. This east- to-west movement of the turret counteracts the west-to-east rotation of the earth and gives the telescope the illusion of tracking a star; actually, it is the earth which is moving not the star.
Inside the observatory, a one-half horsepower electric motor activates the drive shaft. The drive shaft turns the gears which move the three and one-half ton turret along the equatorial plane. Movement along this plane is called right ascension and is measured in hours of time on a sidereal click. A sidereal day is the length of time it takes a star to return to the same position in the sky from the viewer’s vantage point.
The telescope tube points, or declinates, north and south of the equator. This enable the observer to focus on any celestial object that can be seen in full on a clear night.
The Hartness Workshop and Underground Tunnel
After the completion of the observatory, Hartness decided to dig a tunnel to the telescope from the house, as he didn’t want to go outdoors when using the telescope. In digging the tunnel, he found the sand suitable for concrete. It is this revelation that sets the stage for the next story.
Hartness was an intense worker easily irritated by interruptions. Even the normal activity about his home disturbed him. Although he had a study in the house, he soon established a “den” in the woods behind the house and beside a brook. But even there the surrounding noises disturbed him. He built a series of rooms under the lawn in front of the house and beyond the observatory, where he could work uninterrupted and in absolute quiet. The rooms consisted of a library, workshop, lavatory, study and lounge room, connected end to end, all of them underground and supplied with electric, heat and fresh air. The whole apartment was sound-proof, wonderfully ventilated (the tunnel was an aid in ventilation, for it drops some 10 feet before it reaches the rooms), cool in summer and warm in winter. Here Hartness found his much coveted quiet.
It was in these rooms that Hartness designed many of his machine tools. A guest was fortunate if Hartness, after dinner, would ask if he would not like to go down below. With a mysterious air he would take one downstairs and unlock a door into the tunnel. He would call attention to the remarkable echo and then lead his guest into another world, the world of astronomy.
Today these rooms comprise a museum for Stellafane (formerly the Springfield Telescope Makers, (STM) a group of amateur telescope makers) founded by Russell Porter, a Hartness friend and fellow telescope aficionado. It was Porter and other Springfield men with the encouragement of Hartness, who initiated the creation and construction of the Hale 200-inch telescope on Mt. Palomar. The underground museum is a fitting place to view the 200-inch telescope’s conceptual drawings and other mementos of these special men.
Guests will see artifacts throughout the Inn related to James Hartness’ many activities. In 1914 Hartness was awarded a pilot’s license – in a Wright Biplane. He was one of the first 100 pilots in America. As an aviator he became acquainted with Charles Lindbergh and was instrumental in having Lindbergh land at Springfield’s airport (now Hartness Airport) in 1927 after his trans-Atlantic flight. Lindbergh was Hartness’ house guest and stayed in the room now bearing his name.
The house contains not only the memorabilia of a prominent man, a renaissance man and a former Governor, but the memoirs of the family’s daily life written by granddaughter Mary Fenn, a copy of which is placed in each guest room. Her imagery makes the past come alive – “The atmosphere exuded a friendly, hospitable warmth – a reflection of the lady of the house.”
The James Hartness Russell Porter Astronomy Museum
The Stellafane organization, together with the Hartness House, host the Hartness Russell Porter Amateur Astronomy Museum in James Hartness’ former underground work area. The museum occupies 3 rooms in the Hartness underground work area and contains hundreds of exhibits related to amateur astronomy; telescope making; Russell Porter artwork, drawing, and schematics; telescopes from the early-1900’s; astronomical lens and mirror making; and photographs of the early 1900’s of Springfield and the Hartness House.
Russell Porter is featured throughout the museum for his achievements as founder of the Springfield Telescope Makers Association; his expeditions to Mt. McKinley and the North Pole; his artwork and paintings and drawings; his inventions like the Porter Garden Telescope, on display in the museum; and his work on the Hale Observatory on Mount Palomar in California.
The museum also features the Russell Porter drawings he made of the Hale Observatory. Porter’s drawings show the cut-away views of the observatory’s construction which clearly show its operation.
The museum contains several excellent examples of amateur telescope making with exhibits of telescopes from 1900’s to 1950’s. Several of the notable exhibits are shown here.
Frank Whitney was one of the early members of the Springfield Telescope Making Association, the forerunner of the Stellafane Organization. The museum contains several of Frank’s telescopes and telescope making kits and equipment.
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