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Stellafane Decline and Renaissance
1937 - 1989


By backing up a few months from the 1937 convention to February of that year one can see that the Springfield Telescope Makers had a bit of a struggle with womens' rights.  It was at that monthly meeting that Nancy Flanders was proposed for membership. Born in 1918 as Anna Hartness Flanders, she was the daughter of Helen Hartness Flanders and Ralph Edward Flanders who would become the US Senator from Vermont, 1946-1958, and granddaughter of James Hartness.  At the previous two meetings discussions were held as to what to do if females requested membership.  A letter from Porter on the matter was even read, although the Secretary's records are blank on Porter's thoughts.

Nancy was a student at Swathmore College at the time and at the February meeting John M. Pierce reported that he had tested her mirror and declared it of higher quality than that of the average member.  Because of his endorsement, or perhaps in spite of it, she was voted in as the first female active voting member.  Gladys Piper had been the only female member of Porter's original mirror making class back in 1920 but had moved away from town in 1921 and thus had not requested membership.

Although conventions continued to be held every year since 1926, by 1942 the effort of supplying machine tools to the country's war commitment demanded that the three machine tool companies in Springfield; Jones and Lamson, Fellows Gear Shaper, and Bryant Chucking Grinder, go on twelve hour shifts with the machines operating around the clock.  With a staggered-days off system this placed the average work week between sixty and seventy hours. So consumed were the energies of the Springfield people with this united effort that the Springfield Telescope Makers voted at the February meeting not to hold a convention that year or following years for the duration of the war.  Springfield's total employment in the three companies was tiny compared to other industrial centers, in January, 1939 it had been 1576, by October, 1942 it had risen to 4665.  Nevertheless, for the seven years 1939 to 1945, Springfield's output amounted to a little over five percent of the total machine tool production in the entire United States.

Finally, with World War II ended, conventions were reinitiated on August 3, 1946.  Porter was due to attend this convention but not before accepting the honorary degree Doctor of Science from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont where he had been a student for one year in 1889-1890.  He was in famous company that day when present to accept a similar degree was Dwight David Eisenhower.

At the convention Porter was the most anticipated speaker at the top of an impressive program of speakers. After the crowd assembled on the grassy slopes in front of Stellafane for the evening talks he brought them up to date on the progress of the 200-inch telescope, expected to be ready for use in about a year.  Following Porter, Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard College Observatory showed colored movies of solar prominences taken at the Climax, Colorado observatory.  Other speakers were Dr. James Baker of Harvard College Observatory, Professor George Dimitroff of Dartmouth College, Dr. John Strong of Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Charles Smiley of Brown University.  This would be Porter's last convention at Stellafane.

In spite of the success of the previous year's convention there was a waning interest in continuing them, and in 1947 the convention was not held again, perhaps partly due to the fact that Porter could not attend.  But in the following year the convention tradition was resuscitated on August 7, 1948.  In his absence Porter sent a letter to be read to the guests. "You may be sure I regret not being present with you tonight, but the stress of other work has made this impossible.  But I am very much with you in spirit."11 During the period when the new 200-inch telescope was going through final optical adjustments Porter had a chance to do some observing.  "I was looking at the Hercules Cluster the other night at the coude (f/30) focus with a power of about 900."  The stars at the center of the cluster had never been resolved, "But they were completely separated against a dark sky background, and so bright as to require only a few seconds photographic exposure."1

The following year, 1949, Porter died in Pasadena on February 22 at age seventy-seven.  Again the Springfield Telescope Makers lapsed into lethargy and abandoned thoughts of conventions for some years.


1954 Convention
1954 Convnetion
1954 Convnetion

In 1953, this author made my first visit to Stellafane at the June monthly meeting.  By the annual meeting in November I had completed my first telescope mirror, from a 6-inch plate glass kit purchased from John M. Pierce.  I doubt that I understood what I was doing when it came time to produce a smooth parabola but I took it to Pierce's house to be tested.  It was at this visit that he told me that sometimes he liked to play a joke on people when they brought their mirror to him to be tested.  Holding their precious mirror protectively in two hands he would walk around back of the furnace.  Out of sight of the anxious visitor he would bump his elbow against a piece of glass and send it crashing to the floor.  Then he would pick up an old mirror that had been broken in two and appear from behind the furnace, all apologetic, just to see the reaction.  Fortunately I was spared this trauma and he pronounced my mirror "acceptable."  I was thus accepted for membership as the youngest member up to that time, age fourteen, a freshman in high school. 

This was the about the year that the Springfield Telescope Makers appeared to reach their low point, both in activities and meeting attendance.  Membership had gradually declined from a high of 30 in 1938 to a low of 17 in 1949 and then began to rise slowly.  Average meeting attendance reached a low in 1954 of 6.3.  The club had been reduced to "the keeper of the flame."

1954 Convention
Prize winning 8-inch Newtonian telescope by A. L. Dounce at the 1954 convention.
8" Newtonian by A. L. Dounce in 1954

Then on May 1, 1954, there arrived at Stellafane a visitation from the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston in the names of Chester Cook, James Gagan, and Sam Gardiner.  Following the evening meal of beef stew, rolls, apple pie, and coffee, the guests presented their urgent plea to hold a convention that summer.  They even expressed a willingness to underwrite the expenses.  After much discussion between the two parties it was agreed to hold a convention that summer with the agreement that the Boston group would take care of all publicity, tickets, collecting the $2.00 registration, and program arrangement.  The Springfield group would put the road and grounds into suitable condition and arrange for parking, light refreshments, a tent and chairs.  It was a pretty simple affair compared to conventions nowadays, which require countless person-hours by many dedicated people over many months to make it happen smoothly.

About 250 people from ten states and Canada registered for the August 21, 1954 convention.  They examined the many telescopes set up on the grounds surrounding Stellafane, 20 of which were entered in the judging contest.  In the evening they gathered on the sloping grass and outcroppings in front of Stellafane to listen to the speakers.  Ernest Flanders of the local club spoke on early history of Stellafane.  A. W. "Wally" Everest of Pittsfield, MA spoke, as did Dr. Henry Paul, of Rochester, New York, Margaret Mayall, recorder for the American Association of Variable Star Observers, and others.

1954 Convention
1954 Convnetion
1954 Convnetion

A long list of men prominent in telescope making was assembled for the telescope judging.  Albert Ingalls was honorary chairman, with John E. Lovely of the Springfield club and Dr. Charles Smiley of Brown University Co-chairmen.  Names familiar to many in the atm business filled out the list.

A. W. Everest

Ernest V. Flanders

Fred A. Pflug

Stanley W. Brower

Ralph Dakin

Earle B. Brown

Dr. Henry E. Paul

Prof. Richard Goddard

Winfred Shattuck

Harold Murch

Charles A. Federer

Wagn Hargbol

George W. Perry

Merton H. Arms

1954 Convention
Some 1965 convention attendees. Standing left-to-right; Paul Valleli, Stanley Brouwer, Ed Lindberg, Sam Gardiner. Seated; Richard Luce on left holding hat, Allan MacKintosh dark shirt looking left, Dr. Henry Paul wearing tie. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Some 1965 convention attendees

First prize for mechanical construction went to Albert I. Robinson of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston.  Second prize went to A.L. Dounce, of Rochester, New York.  William E. Knight took third prize and Samuel M. Gardiner took fourth prize, both of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston.  The author got an honorable mention for his 6-inch Springfield Mount telescope fashioned from 2-inch pipe fittings.  For optical performance, first prize went to A. L. Dounce and second prize to A. Johanson of New York City.

1965 Convention
Roger Tuthill and his 20-inch telescope at the 1965 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Roger Tuthill and his 20-inch telescope

The commotion of all the convention-bound cars must have attracted the attention of Charles V. Thayer who lived a quarter mile down the hill from Stellafane, for he appeared at the next monthly meeting in September out of curiosity as to what these telescope makers were about.  Possessing a mind of mechanical inclination and hands skilled enough to keep up, he soon became enthralled with what these men promoted.  By the following spring he was at work refurbishing the right ascension gear box and installing a more powerful RA motor on the Porter turret telescope since the original motor was no longer functioning.

During the annual November1955 meeting there was a discussion on what to do about the continuing low attendance and lack of interest in telescope making or observing.  The Porter Turret was not being used, attempts showed it to be out of alignment and the RA motor and gear box would not track.  A way to attract new blood into the club was needed.  The outcome was an associate membership article being added to the constitution in December, 1955, whereby a person working on a telescope mirror or interested in conducting an observing program could be brought into the fold until such time he qualified for full membership by completing a mirror deemed satisfactory by the president or his designate.  Charles Thayer became the first associate member at that December meeting for his continued work on improving the mechanical operation of the Porter Turret.  His dues for the year were credited to his payment of $5.00 to a welder, who cut and bent the solid steel counterweight so it would not strike the outcropping and the turret could be swung a full circle in RA.

1965 Convention
A solid Dall-Kirkham telescope displayed at the 1965 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
A solid Dall-Kirkham telescope

There was an immediate effect of the associate membership addition to the constitution, for at the January 1956 meeting there appeared seven guests who were viewed as potential associate members.   One was Margaret (Peg) Beardsley, wife of member Harty Beardsley, grandson of James Hartness, and who was classifying and counting sunspots and observing occultations  with the Hartness Turret telescope.  Unfortunately she never became a member.  Other guests were Virginia and Wilman Day and Christine Cahee, all who became associate members in July of that year.

In June a curious letter was received by Jim Gagan, of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston, and who was in charge of the convention registration and program.

1967 Convention
16-inch Newtonian telescope at the 1967 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
16" telescope at the 1967 convention.
1968 Convention
Tilted-Component telescope by Richard Buchroeder at the 1968 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Tilted-Component telescope 1968

June 12, 1956

Dear Mr. Gagan:

During February of this year we were in Vermont on a skiing trip.  Since we are both ardent amateur astronomers and telescope makers, and make it a point to attend all Stellafane Conventions, we felt that a trip to Vermont was not complete without a trip up Breezy Hill to visit Stellafane.  Needless to say, it was quite a journey, since the snow was hip deep all the way.  Upon arriving at the top of the hill we found the Clubhouse completely locked -- and, since we were both exhausted and cold -- we broke a pane of glass, opened the window and entered.  We patched the broken glass, built a fire to dry ourselves, made hot tea, and rested a while before returning to Manchester. At that time we left a note explaining our visit.

Since February we have tried without success to find out to whom we should address a letter and payment for the broken pane of glass.  Not until your notice of the 1956 Convention was received this morning have we had any luck.  So here is a check for $5.00 -- to cover the pane of glass, two tea bags and wood necessary to dry our wet socks.  Know you will want the place in top shape for the Convention  -- and perhaps the money will do a bit of good.---

ATM of Franklin Institute

At the annual November, 1956 meeting the author was elected president, probably too stunned to refuse since he was a senior in high school, years younger than the other members.  But he was busy working on his second telescope, an 8-inch Newtonian in a fork mount with motor drives.  In the spring of 1957 the telescope was barely completed when he took it to the New Hampshire state science fair where he won first prize in the physics category.  Then he took it to the Stellafane convention that summer and won first prize for mechanical construction.

The following year, 1958, saw the passing of John M. Pierce on March 4 at the age of 71.  He died at his winter home in Maitland, Florida and was buried in Springfield, Vermont.  He was a charter member of the Springfield Telescope Makers, supplier of mirror making kits and telescope parts to countless amateurs around the world, and had been director of the Springfield High School Co-operative Education Course from 1919 to 1956.

At the 1958 Stellafane convention Christine Cahee and Virginia Day, who had been working together on their telescopes, proudly displayed their finished instruments, both 6-inch Newtonians on pipe-fitting German mounts.  By 1960, Hedrick Cahee would finish his own 6-inch mirror thus making the Cahee's the first husband and wife team to become full members of the Springfield club.

During these years monthly meetings were held throughout the winter months at Stellafane.  The member in charge of the supper would trudge up through the snow early in the day to get the fires going in the wood stove and fireplace and start the supper.  The rest would arrive later before dark, having followed the footsteps.  Many times the snow would be up to ones knees.  The March 5, 1960 secretary's report sets the tone.

Nine people braved the three-foot snowdrifts of Breezy Hill on Saturday night, March 5th, to attend the monthly meeting of the Springfield Amateur Telescope Makers.  The two Charles Thayer's, Senior and Junior, established a snowshoe trail up the hill to Stellafane, and the Cahee's and Virginia Day followed it with ease on their snow shoes.  Guests Eliot and Marianne Buchingham started up bravely, without showshoes, sinking in up to their knees at each step, but were rescued halfway up by a Saint Bernard, (Hedrick Cahee), who had come back down with two pairs of snowshoes for them.  Later, when John C. Pierce and Joe Todd, also without snowshoes, followed in the potholes left by the Buckingham's, they were disconcerted to discover that the tracks came to an abrupt halt, as though the makers of them had suddenly become airborne!

The Springfield Telescope Makers rode rather easily through the 1960s.  Membership grew at a glacial pace from 27 to 32 across the decade, sponsorship of the conventions was relinquished on the part of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston and taken over totally by the STM.  Thirteen members and friends journeyed to Dexter, Maine for the July 20, 1963 total solar eclipse, at which the Cahee-Day party missed totality due to clouds, while the Willard (Willards' honeymoon)-Thayer-Patterson party succeeded in photographing totality.  In 1969 the author started gathering together memorabilia and framing Porter paintings owned by the STM, to be displayed at some yet to be determined location.  Finally in September, 1970 a temporary home was found and twenty two paintings went on display at the Miller Art Center of the Springfield Art and Historical Society.  This became the seed collection for what soon became the Museum of Amateur Telescope Making in the Hartness House.  But all in all it was a rather uneventful decade.  Not so the following decade, in fact the 1970s might be considered a tipping point for the STM for several reasons.


Soon after the 1970 convention, Jim Daley, of New Ipswich, New Hampshire, proposed a plan to the author.  But first we need to back up to Jim's first Stellafane convention in 1959 and read in his own words how he mulled over the idea for a decade before arriving at the proposal.2

On first seeing the Porter Turret in 1959 my first thoughts centered around the instrument's concept put forward by it's inventor. It was clear that his desire was to view comfortably indoors, a dream of many amateurs even today. I affectionately called the turret an "inside-out Newtonian" configuration, that is, the diagonal mirror defined the maximum aperture possible and the perforation took the place of the normal diagonal but still defined the un-vignetted field! Porter had previously played with this idea but the stroke of genius is in the mounting arrangement which combines the two perpendicular motions of right ascension and declination in his now familiar turret form. He was, no doubt, influenced by the much older Hartness turret just "down the street" near the center of Springfield.

After attending a few Stellafane conventions and having lots of conversations with the Springfield Telescope Makers club members, a view of the instrument's condition slowly emerged. I noticed at each convention that the turret always seemed to have a problem and observers could only get a fleeting view of objects, when and if they could be found. This state of affairs really perked my interest as the design was fundamentally sound thus there was no reason why Porter's dream could not be realized in full measure, delighting future observers. In 1969 I made a mental list of the telescope's problems including the following.

1) The clock drive was totally inadequate as the speed regulation was nonexistent.

2) The gear box clutch was slipping badly and leaking oil all down the north side face of the observatory.

3) The fast slewing arrangement had gone very wrong inside the gearbox and the oil in the bottom was contaminated with large aluminum chips. Also, if the observer forgot to remove the manual slewing crank he would be in danger of breaking a bone or two when the powered slew was engaged.

4) The friction roller, which drives the polar axis dome, was slipping.

5) Images in the scope were not well formed although impressive enough to see the real possibilities. Further investigation revealed that the 16-inch flat had a turned down edge of about 1/2 wave (surface) and the 16-inch primary also exhibited a similar problem. Many observers complained of astigmatism but after I viewed with the instrument for a while one night it dawned on me that it was not astigmatism but simply the in and out of focus pattern you would expect when a 16- inch primary is illuminated by a 11.3 x 16-inch elliptical beam. The patterns remained in the same orientation on both sides of focus, mystery solved.

6) The roof was leaking and the dome's concrete was cracking.

The project to bring the turret telescope to full operational status and to finally realize Porter's dream began with a simple but important task, shingling the observatory roof. The original roof was tar-papered and gave the building a cheap, shack-like appearance. I suggested a nice wood shingle covering and got club approval for this change. The effect was dramatic with the observatory looking neat as a pin.

Another amateur and mechanical engineer fresh from Arizona, Alan Rohwer, had recently fullfilled his dream of visiting Stellafane.  In a letter dated 31 January 1977 to the STM he expressed his feelings of what it meant to have Stellafane a part of his life.  He wrote in part:

It is a very special honor for me to be writing this letter to the Springfield Telescope Makers as your president.  The feelings are still fresh in my mind of my first view of the clubhouse back in 1969 when, just in from Arizona, I climbed Breezy Hill to attend my first Stellafane Convention.  The vision of the clubhouse, framed by that grove of hemlocks at the bend in the road, and the feelings of excitement to ACTUALLY BE THERE, are memories I will forever savor.

Alan had moved from Arizona to Massachusetts to take up a new job designing radio telescopes.  He jumped at Jim Daley's invitation to help on the mechanical restoration of the Porter turret.  What an opportunity for a scraggly looking kid in blue jeans and denim jacket, broad brimmed hat with both sides curled up, and an eager smile and quick wit.  With a certain amount of sadness he left his favorite rock hounding territory in the west with the conviction that at least he would finally be able to see Stellafane.  It was some years later that Alan said TNs may be amateur telescope makers but rock hounds are amateur talus slope makers.

Taking up Jim's narrative again:2

About this time I met Alan Rohwer who joined the effort to restore the turret. After Bert Willard and I finished shingling the roof Al suggested we take out the gear box and examine it and determine a course of repair. With the gearbox removed we disassembled it and cleaned all the parts of metal chips, grit & sludge. The clutch mechanism is of the multi plate type actuated with a simple over cam engagement/lock. It became clear that the slew mechanism should be permanently disabled as it placed far to much strain on all the parts and besides the manual slew with the hand crank worked smoothly and safely. Along about this time Mike Heleba and Charlie Thayer joined the team and things like the offset slew crank was replaced with a nice hand wheel from a large machine tool. The original drive motor was an induction single phase AC type and thus the speed regulation was poor. We found a surplus variable speed frequency controlled gear reduced motor drive unit and obtained a suitable flex coupling. The gearbox was installed and the new drive attached. All worked well except for the occasional slipping of the friction drive roller. Porter must have had a way of loading the roller against the RA internal ring surface and yet the gear box had no such provision. I was examining the idler rollers and noticed that the hex headed bearing studs were eccentric to the center drilled holes used in lathe-turning the shafts. One simple conclusion: the rollers are eccentrically mounted and sure enough by turning the pinion with a big socket wrench the dome could be loaded to any desired value onto the drive roller. The RA axis now drove very well indeed.

The next job was the optics. The first question was should we refigure the old optics (it was during the drive repair that I determined the optical quality of the flat & primary), it was decided not to touch the historically important plate glass Porter optics but, instead, obtain blanks of Pyrex and make a new set. Now here is where I decided, popularly or not, to have a round aperture of 12-inches and this could be nearly done with a flat of 16-inches (16 /1.414 = 11.3-inches). The slight curving shadow segments on opposite diameters are nearly impossible to see extra-focally and have absolutely no adverse affect on the Airy pattern. We were lucky to have both a Pyrex blank for the flat and a Cervit blank for the primary donated and we immediately went to work on them. The flat presented a special problem i.e. it must be thinned from 3 inches to 1.5 inches to enable it to be physically handled (the optics are loaded and removed for each observing session) and to fit the existing cell, also it had to be perforated with a 2-inch hole at 45 degrees, all this and have a flatness such that the wavefront not be corrupted by more than l/10 wave. Well, that job just about taxed my mirror making skills to the limit but finally the job, after 6 months spare time, was done. Meanwhile the primary mirror was completed under my direction by one of the best opticians I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, Ken Leathers. Being a telescope maker and planetary observer, Ken new of the special requirement of planetary telescopes i.e. absolutely smooth optics and he did one fine job on the paraboloidal primary. The final test showed 1/40th wave correction and smoothness better than 1/100 wave.

The future of the Porter turret is assured because the club's level of enthusiasm is high and because the very structure is so well thought out and constructed. The Porter turret remains a lasting testimonial to a great inventive genius who loved the stars.

Jim Daley
Jim Daley installing the newly completed 16-inch flat on the Porter Turret telescope.
Jim Daley installing the new 16-inch flat

Both Jim and Alan were voted in as associate members at the October, 1970 meeting.   Jim reported that the new 12-inch parabola for the Porter turret was already being worked on.

At the annual business meeting in 1970 Jim showed off the Cervit parabola, the first of the mirrors to be completed.  The new flat would not be finished until the following year.  It was fitting that they should use the new primary that evening to have a look at the newly accepted crater Porter (previously Clavius B).  It had been proposed years earlier but never officially accepted by the International Astronomical Union.  Now the STM had a letter from Patrick Moore, English astronomy writer, stating that at his urging the oversight had finally been corrected.  The letter read in part:

  As from Farthings, 39 West Street, Selsey, Sussex.


Dear Mr. Willard,

I am delighted to tell you that my recommenation (sic) that Clavius B should be named PORTER was accepted by the Lunar Committee appointed to allot names; and that this was confirmed at the IAU Meeting.  So the name is now 100% official.

I am delighted to have been able to help.

Yours sincerely
Patrick Moore

It was even more fitting that Ernest V. Flanders should be first in line to view crater Porter with the new primary of the Porter turret.  He was the only living charter member, having been present at the December 7, 1923 founding meeting, and he had been heavily involved in the construction of the turret telescope in 1930.

John C. Pierce
John C. Pierce, looking at the wooden telescope made by STM charter member, Oscar Fullam.
John C. Pierce looking at
Oscar Fullam's telescope

Overshadowing the above events of that meeting was the announcement of the sudden and untimely death of member John C. Pierce on October 27 at age 56.  John C. had grown up in the shadow of Russell Porter and had taken over the business of selling mirror making kits and testing amateur mirrors from his father John M. when he died in 1958.  Born on June 21, 1914, John C. graduated from Middlebury College in 1936 with a degree in geology and went on for a master's degree in education and science from Syracuse University.  Starting his career as a high school teacher, he later moved on to teach at Goddard College in Vermont and finally at the Woodstock Country School, also in Vermont.

John C. was many things to the STM: club orator and historian, leader of the annual sugar-on-snow meeting, instructor for newcomers to mirror making.  He spoke well on many subjects, from minerals to stars, as his teaching experience included biology, chemistry, and the earth sciences.  Other pursuits filled out the life of this remarkable man, including cave exploring, mountain climbing, photography, and barbershop-quartet singing.

John C. had entertained convention attendees with his "Stellafane Lore" twilight talks from 1959 to 1970.  He was known to throw in a certain amount of "theatrics" in his talks, the most memorable to this author was the year he decided to address the crowd from the roof of the Porter Turret observatory and Charlie Thayer, ever present with his public address and tape recording equipment, decided to pull the ladder down leaving John C. marooned for a time on the roof.

It was left to Nickolas Pierce, son of John C. to carry on the third generation of STM membership and telescope maker.

1971 was the centennial of the birth of Russell Porter and special talks were planned for the convention to commemorate the milestone.  For the first time in the history of the conventions it was decided to have a Friday evening program under the tent in back of Stellafane.  Up to that time very few people visited Stellafane on Friday evenings.  The dozen or so who did make the trek up the hill from the camping field were offered coffee and doughnuts in the clubhouse kitchen, very informally arranged.  No one knew if people would come to a Friday evening program.  The plan was to have the author present his slide-illustrated tape-recorded narration tracing Porter's life as seen through his paintings.  To the author's surprise, after concentrating on setting up the program, he looked up to see the tent completely filled with people.  The Friday evening programs have been going on ever since.

On Saturday afternoon, the talks were devoted to Porter.  Alan Rohwer talked about "The Porter Turret Telescope and It's Restoration."  Fred Chellis, from the ATMoB and person responsible for the convention registration material from 1971 to 1977 talked about "Russell W. Porter - Telescope Designer."  For the evening talks, Walter Scott Houston chose to skip Porter, instead his talk was "In Memory of John Pierce."  Scotty took up the space left by John Pierce the following year when he introduced his evening talk, "Stellafane Shadowgrams," which he continued uninterrupted until his death in 1993.

The most disturbing item for 1971 was the discovery that the land that completely surrounded Stellafane and protected it from encroaching lights was up for sale by the four heirs of Ted Miller, at various times Chief Engineer, General Manager, and President, of Fellows Gear Shaper. None of the heirs had homes in Springfield nor much concern for Stellafane.  The 470-acre tract included the camping and parking field so many convention attendees had come to enjoy and depend upon.   With an asking price by Spencer Miller, son to Ted and executor to the estate, of $300,000 and an assayed estimate of $185,000, either number seemed a daunting sum for the STM to contemplate.  The three acres on which Stellafane sat could do nothing to block development and they certainly could not support a convention, unless it was held in the middle of winter.  What to do?  A committee was formed to make recommendations of action.  Lawyers versed in land conservation were consulted.  Requests for advice from several conservationist groups were made.  Negotiations were made with Spencer Miller for a possible option to buy the land, and to obtain a two or three year period in which to obtain funds to complete the purchase transaction.  Discussions surrounded the ideas of retaining a professional fundraiser, making a general appeal to the astronomical community, and appeals to conservation and historical foundations.  An exploratory letter of appeal for donations to over one hundred individuals and companies yielded little response, a rather disappointing beginning.  Fortunately for the STM, the real estate market in Springfield was weak, the large tract of land was a bit too far from ski areas to attract developers, and no serious offers appeared.  But the threat hung over the hilltop for several years.

On a lighter note, on Friday evening before the October, 1971 meeting, Jim Daley and Alan Rohwer arrived at Stellafane, removed an earthen cover over a stone-lined hole in the ground just down from the northeast corner of the building, cleaned it out and for the first time in twenty-five years built a fire inside, thus starting the twenty-four hour process of preparing beanhole beans. They followed precisely the instructions written down by charter member and chef, Everett Redfield.  Saturday evening's meal culminated with the removal of the beans in their iron kettles from the beanhole and the serving of the steaming hot main course, eagerly exclaimed over by apprehensive members.  This revived tradition would continue for several more years.

Other traditions added to make the meetings at Stellafane what they were.  One was the supper at the annual business meeting in November, oyster stew.  No one has described these meals better than secretary, E. V. Flanders, as the report for 1972 attests.

The annual Meeting of the Springfield Telescope Makers has for years demanded a traditional serving of oyster stew as the main dish.  It is well know that no one herd of cows, or one oyster bed can supply the need of our members that night.  A call goes out ahead of time for oysters and milk to satisfy our needs, and dealers fight for the business.  From the days of Col. Redfield, through the expert catering of Ellsworth Johnson, into the John Pierce era, we have had oyster stew that had everthing (sic) that one could ask for.  Every oyster went into its supreme sacrifice with a smile.  The milk gurgled with ecstasy.  Now we had come face to face with the necessity of finding a new volunteer to follow the illustrious record of our past performers.  When at the October Meeting a volunteer was asked for, who should speak up but one of our younger and most attractive members.  With extreme modesty and the loveliest of smiles, our own Hillary Martin said she would undertake this supreme contribution to our most important meeting of the year.  True to her word she produced a fine stew, adequately rationed, oysters to milk, most nourishing, and in adequate amounts, to suit the most avid appetite.  However, I noticed from time to time, some of the oysters, were not smiling as usual.  I finally inquired of one more down cast than the rest, just why.  He said that he and his associates had spent their whole lives in anticipation of this event.  He was grateful for having been selected, but disappointed because he and his comrades had not been able to show the frill on their pants.  This comes only when they are submerged in butter and heated just short of broiling.  This brings out the best in the oyster.  He tells you when, by spreading them and at that point is at the height of his aroma.  Then when added to hot milk, there is produced the most delectable of all stews.  The oysters and hot milk should be allowed to associate together long enough in voluptuous warmth to allow time for completion of their marriage conception.  This is not a criticism of our recent delightful experience.  This is only for the record as told to your secretary  by none other than Col. Redfield himself.  But what stew would not be superb when prepared by our own lovely Hillary?

Winter came early that year and by the December meeting there was much snow on the ground and it was impossible to drive to Stellafane.  This is the only time before or since that any elder member has ever been man-hauled to the summit.  Again secretary Flanders chronicled the happening.

The meeting of the Springfield Telescope Makers on Dec. 2, 1972 started out on a somewhat different note than any previous meeting.  Your secretary with more years behind him than ahead of him, had made an incautious remark to the effect that it would be doubtful if he would be able to attend the December meeting at Stellafane as the younger group had voted to do, in the regular Nov. 4 meeting, come fair weather or foul.  Your secretary used the word "incautious" having forgotten temporarily, that to youth, such a statement becomes a challenge.  As a result, our contingent of youth, with great enthusiasm, immediately set about getting the secretary to the meeting, regardless of slippery roads, and a generous snow depth in the woods.  From my door to summit, not one detail was overlooked.  Charlie Thayer drove me to the barway, where an alarm was sounded which brought three husky members with a toboggan, with instructions to pick up and transport your aged and infirm secretary and five gals of water to Stellafane.  Finally ensconced on a narrow version of the fun vehicle, we started up on the long trek to the top.

My vehicle was so narrow, and my beam so wide in relation thereto, I added a considerable non-polished drag to the noble effort of Jim and Mike Daley, and Mike Rushford.  I carried a five-gallon can of water between my knees, but arrived safely at Stellafane.  Just what happened on arrival is not clear to me.  I found myself half buried in snow, but able to get up.  Jim, however, hampered by snow shoes and extreme fatigue, could only regain his feet through the help of the rest of us.  Mike Rushford tried to make this scene immortal through the eye of my camera.  Light conditions made this somewhat difficult, but one can clearly see the agony of fatigue and frustration on Jim's face, as he was lifted by gentle hands into an upright position.  Your secretary spent the rest of the evening drying out the seat and legs of his pants due to the accumulation of snow acquired in this momentous "FIRST" in Stellafane history.

The following fall the bean hole beans were again served up and again secretary Flanders set in type an account that sets the aroma for these events.

The evening of Sept. 7, settled in with an air of expectancy.  A great peace fell over the whole area, and a small group assembled to watch, and perhaps to assist in the Rite about to be consummated by our renowned and highly respected Lord High Priest of Bean Hole Beans, James Daley.  It was with great care and reverence, that the cover to the Bean Hole was lifted, to expose the area where so much would be done for so many in the next 24 hours.  Minor changes were made under the direction of the High Priest, which he felt would lead to the perfect product.

Then came the moment when the match was applied to the carefully prepared material collected for the fire.  The first stage of the Ritual had begun.  Three active Acolytes, named Susan, Mark and Timothy, (Daley's children), became hewers and carriers of wood, and kept the fire going, well into the night.  In the meantime the High Priest selected and prepared the soldier beans for their long immersion in cold, clear water.  At this stage they would swell proudly in anticipation of their final sacrificial act of burial in the embers and stones (hot) so carefully prepared by the Acolytes.

Early the next morning, the beans in their iron pots were lowered into the eager glowing coals.  The hole was covered carefully with a metal cover, and insulated with grass, leaves, and a blanket material.  Just before supper, with suitable ceremony, they were brought into Stellafane, a delectable feast, eagerly consumed by all.  A tribute to the superb mastery of the art as proved again by our High Priest, Daley.

Roger Tuthill
Roger Tuthill and his 12-inch Newtonian telescope at the 1973 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Roger Tuthill and his 12-inch Newtonian at the 1973 convention
16-inch Catadioptric by Dilworth
Catadioptric telescope by Donald Dilworth at the 1974 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
 Catadioptric by Dilworth in 1974

The specter of the land surrounding Stellafane being sold and developed had not gone away.  But neither had a solution been found.  Discussions continued on what to do even though growing lassitude marched with time.  Perhaps if some sort of historical recognition could be obtained for Stellafane it might help in raising funds.  Maybe if someone bought the land who was interested in retaining open space, they might be willing to sell the section of most use for the convention to the STM.  Robert Sorensen, president of The Perkin-Elmer Corporation in Norwalk, Connecticut, considered purchasing the entire lot but finally pulled out.  "I certainly hope you can find a way to arrange for the purchase in whole or in part, but I do not think it fits with my own intentions about property acquisition in Vermont.  If, on the other hand, I think of a means of helping you in some other indirect way, I will certainly be in touch."3

For the next major event of the 1970s decade, the STM were invited to the Hartness House.  In 1974 the Manager of the Hartness House, Kingsley Smith, approached the club with an appeal for help in restoring the Hartness telescope.  It had not been used for some years and they had no one on the staff knowledgeable in its operation and maintenance.  In return the STM would be given the use of two of the underground rooms that most recently had been used for an underground bar.  Here at last was a place to turn into a small museum for the Porter art works and memorabilia.

E. V. Flanders recalled volunteering to operate the telescope from time to time. Those inebriated guests who could make it from the underground bar up the circular stairway to the observatory and then climb the steps to the eyepiece without becoming sacrificial saboteurs to the exposed right ascension gears had a fuzzy glimpse of the moon or a planet.  E.V., always an abstainer of spirits of any kind, had fine views but soon tired of this and gave it up.

Many members of the STM eagerly accepted the new challenge of restoring an historical telescope, the first turret telescope in the world, invented by their mentor, James Hartness.  Outside, the iron tube was badly rusted and needed replacing. Secretary Flanders recorded the assessment of the old.

Saturday, June 29, 1974

The tube is slightly tapered and the various sections are corroded together so firmly, it requires almost a complete destruction of the unit in order to salvage indispensable units, such as the brass ring which supports the lens assembly, and the casting at the base end which supports the tube.  It was a hacksaw and cold chisel disassembly, plus an electric drill to drill out brass screws used in large numbers.

The original construction showed great thought, and care in design, that would hold the tube rigid in all positions used in observing.  Because of the severe corrosion of the inner surfaces, of the tube, it is difficult to know just what gage was used in the original construction.

Trailer Mounted Scope
Trailer mounted telescope at the 1975 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Trailer mounted telescope
at the 1975 convention
1974 Convention
Telescope by junior Barbara Schutt at the 1976 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Telescope by junior Barbara Schutt
at the 1976 convention
Fred Lossing
Fred Lossing, seated, at the 1976 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Fred Lossing, seated,
at the 1976 convention

The new tube would be made by STM member, Fred Schleipman, of Norwich, Vermont.  Not only did he have a complete machine shop at his home, but he also taught machine shop courses to the mechanical engineers at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, just across the Connecticut River in Hanover, New Hampshire.  There was no lacking in Fred's ability or facilities to roll the tube sections of stainless steel.

The turret was sandblasted and repainted and the portholes were made water tight.  The arched roof of the underground observatory, which rises above ground like a breaching whale, was stripped of its tar and canvas cover, patched, and covered with epoxy resin and painted.   This latter effort was a disaster since after a few years the sun and temperature extremes pealed the protective skin.  It was finally replaced with a rubber-based compound which adhered admirably to the old concrete.

Inside, the gear box saw new oil for the first time in many years, while the electric motor and leather belt drive were retained. Eventually, a ventilation system would be installed to dry out the observatory to eliminate the build up of ice on the inside of the turret during the long winters.

Jim Daley undertook to restore the optics.  The right-angle prism just before the eyepiece was repolished to remove the tarnish.  Jim took the optics home to his optical shop for inspection.  It did not take long to discover that the 10-inch Brashear objective had been cemented together even though the inner curves were not a perfect match and this of course degraded the image quality.  He carefully and slowly heated the pair in his bathtub until the Canada Balsam cement softened enough that he could slide the crown and flint apart.  Next, he discovered that the best image quality was had if the lens was reversed from the traditional Fraunhofer arrangement of crown in front.  These two items fixed, the objective was immediately restored to its original high quality expected from John Brashear.

During this year work was also undertaken on the underground rooms.  The huge wooden bar was removed, the walls were stripped of their paint, lead and all, and repainted.  Track lights were installed in the ceiling and a dehumidifier set in operation.  A modest exhibit of Porter paints and other telescope making artifacts would be ready for first showing at the 1975 convention.

Caroline Porter Kier, daughter of Russell Porter, heard of the efforts to establish the museum in the Hartness House and donated several Porter drawings and some Porter - Ferson TN castings.  One was the telescope maker ashtray that sat on Porter's desk at Cal Tech while he worked on the design of the 200-inch.  This was a huge vote of confidence for the club's dream of an atm museum and it was one Caroline would add to from time to time throughout the rest of her life.

Every so often members of the STM are reminded of the uniqueness of Stellafane and how it is revered by people from all across the globe.  The story of Wilford Wallbank is not unusual.  From secretary Flander's report at the October, 1974 meeting:

Tuesday, October 1, I received a call from Virginia Day telling me about a man who had arrived in Springfield, a complete stranger, knowing no one, and having not even a name to call on.  He was from Lancaster, England, and had been an admirer of Russell Porter for many years.  He had been to Palomar -- said he had paid a $100 taxi fare to get there from Los Angeles.  He later came to Springfield hoping to get a little background on Russell Porter.  He was dropped off a bus, found his way into a lunchroom and started to ask about Russell of young people who had never known him.  He got nowhere until Virginia stopped in for a cup of coffee and heard his story.  Much impressed, she called me, and I got wheels into motion.  We got hold of J. B. Johnson, who gave him a tour of Stellafane.  The next day I took him to the optical department of J&L, where he saw some evidence of Porter's work and interest in optics.  A good report of his activities was written up in the Sunday News-Review by Adoree Allen.  The whole visit was a fine example of the influence of Russell Porter on people whose interest lies in telescope making and astronomy.

Mr. Wallbank returned to Stellafane and the conventions several more times during his retirement but his letter after that first visit best expresses his feelings.

October 12.74.

Dear Sir.

     After rambling through 24 states of the U.S. I ended this 4 week- long journey, by making a pilgrimage to a place called Springfield in the State of Vermont.  Just to stand and walk, where, in my eyes, lived a man who has given me more joy and success than anyone.  His name was Russell W. Porter.

     My telescope and observatory took 13 years to complete, and quite a number of parts should have R.W.P. stamped on them, because they are from his drawings and writings in Amateur Telescope Making books 1. And 2.

     To you, and all of us, he has given a relief from care, a direction to our leisure, and a method of relaxation.

     Through the kindness and friendship of the people of Springfield, I was driven by car, to those places whose names are so familiar to me.  Jones and Lamson, and above all Stellafane, up on Breezy Hill.

     Yes October 1st 1974.  I have waited for that day, for so long.  It’s a day I shall never forget.  In the copy of Sky and Telescope, February this year, it states that the Springfield Telescope Makers, are seeking to have Stellafane preserved as a state or national historical site.

     Please, try hard.  Not just for the U.S.A.

     But for the A.T.M.s all over the world.

     Don't let it go.  Your history is so short.  The cottage next to me (still ocupied) was built in 1590.  Yes less than a century after the continent of America was discovered.

     Stellafane is not a place only.  There are a million memories there on that hill.  In the words of Blake

            To see a world in a grain of sand
           And a heaven in a wild flower.
           To hold infinity in the palm of
                                     Your hand.
           And eternity in an hour.

     That’s Stellafane.

     Thank you.
       To the people of Springfield and all over the U.S.A.
    W Wallbank    F.R.A.S.

TNorm James
Norm James, right, and his floating ball telescope at the 1976 convention. Photo by Walter Scott Houston.
Norm James, right, and his floating ball telescope at the 1976 convention

The STM had not neglected their role during the very active 1970s as a provider of education to the public and inspiration to its younger members to seek out careers in the sciences.  In 1975 STM member Carl Breuning gave a talk on astronomy to the Ascutney Mountain Audubon Society and conducted an observing session for them at the Porter Turret.  Ever since then Carl took great pleasure in showing the telescope to interested persons and groups.  Through the years he took more people on tours out into the universe with the Porter invention, which is so marvelously suited to such tasks, than any other club member.   In 1976 STM member Mike Rushford graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology, went on to earn his PhD in physics, and found employment at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.  That same year Alan Rohwer gave a lecture to the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences in Woodstock, Vermont, titled "What Does the Amateur Astronomer Contribute to Scientific Research?"  Member George Scotten eagerly took on the task of instructing people on mirror making and conducted a course in astronomy at the local Community College. 

Then, in 1977, Stellafane was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites by the state of Vermont after member and former governor, Joseph B. Johnson, completed and submitted the application that took eighteen months to get through the process.    The certificate was first displayed to the public at the 1978 convention.  It would be another dozen years before Stellafane was designated a National Historic Landmark.  The bronze plaque that was cemented to the outcropping on which sits the Porter Turret telescope reads:







Next Chapter: Mac's Mak Club

Prior Chapter: Leo J. Scanlon, 1930 and 1937 Conventions

Back to Introduction


  1. Letter, Russell W. Porter to Stellafane.  Printed in Sky and Telescope, October, 1948, p.297.
  2. Reconstructed Thoughts on the Porter Turret Restoration, unpublished notes by James Daley,
    March 24, 2001.
  3. Letter, Robert H. Sorensen to Berton C. Willard, Treasurer, STM, November 16, 1973.


  1. Willard, Berton C., Russell W. Porter, Arctic Explorer Artist Telescope Maker,
    Bond Wheelwright Co. Freeport, Maine, 1976.
  2. Springfield Telescope Makers Inc., Secretary's Records, Springfield, Vermont.      
  3.  Broehl Jr., Wayne G., Precision Valley, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959.
  4. Willard, Berton C., "Stellafane Mentor Dies," Sky and Telescope, January, 1971, p.28.
  5. Springfield Telescope Makers Inc., photo archives, Springfield, Vermont.