Podcast: Stargazing at Stellafane in Springfield
October 15, 2021
Perched at the top of Breezy Hill in Springfield is a hot pink clubhouse that’s a National Historic Landmark.
The clubhouse, called Stellafane, was built in the 1920s and is owned by the Springfield Telescope Makers Club. In August, about 800 amateur telescope maker enthusiasts roamed the grounds of Breezy Hill for the four-day annual Stellafane Convention of Amateur Telescope Makers.
As the story goes, the clubhouse is hot pink because the club had very little money in its early days. Back then, members decided the best way to find paint for their new clubhouse was to visit hardware stores and ask for donations. They ended up with three gallons of barn red paint, two gallons of white, and one gallon of orange. They mixed the paint, which resulted in a hot pink color.
“It’s a unique and accidental marketing ploy. But everybody who’s associated with astronomy knows about the hot pink clubhouse,” says longtime club member Ken Slater of Chester. “It’s kind of our trademark.”
-The Porter Turret Telescope, constructed in 1930 on Breezy Hill near the Stellafane Clubhouse, is a National Historic Landmark.
Vermont’s Precision Valley
Stellafane is Latin for “shrine to the stars.” Russell Porter, a telescope maker and founder of the Springfield Telescope Makers Club, adopted the name. The clubhouse features old photographs and memorabilia, and it’s also where the Springfield Telescope Makers Club occasionally holds meetings.
When the club was established, it drew a variety of machinists and toolmakers who worked in the Precision Valley. Located along the Connecticut River, the Precision Valley extended from Springfield and Windsor south to Hartford, Connecticut. In the 1850s, the waterpower of the Connecticut River allowed machine tool companies to operate and produce precision parts. (The American Precision Museum is in Windsor.)
The club continues to attract people interested in astronomy, instruments, and telescope making.
Slater is a retired electrical and software engineer who joined the Springfield Telescope Makers Club in the 1990s. His roles in the club have included trustee, webmaster, and mirror class instructor.
Prior to joining the club, Slater wanted to learn something new. He eventually found himself interested in telescope making.
“I had that 40 to 45 mid-age crisis where I thought, ‘What do I want to do now?'” Slater said. “My wife kindly bought me a really cheap and awful telescope for Christmas, which is easy to do if you don’t know what you’re doing. She meant well.”
After growing frustrated with the shakiness of his new telescope, Slater wondered if he could put his skills to the test and make one himself. He eventually joined the Springfield club and hasn’t looked back.
“I thought it would be helpful to find some like-minded people,” Slater says. “And one thing Stellafane has a reputation for is that we get it done. We build stuff. We’re not talking about it. We’re doing it.”
-Telescope builders at the Stellafane Convention in August.
Happy Vermont Podcast: Stargazing at Stellafane
In this podcast episode of Happy Vermont, Ken Slater shares the history of Stellafane and offers tips for stargazing in Vermont.