Secrets of the Hartness House

Hartness Underground Tunnel and Workshop

Telescope Observatory

The Hartness House was built by former Governor of Vermont, engineer, chief executive officer, inventor and wealthy industrialist James Hartness.  

This country inn is unique in that it features its own museum, astronomy observatory and antique telescope with a unique equatorial drive system.  More unusual is the secret tunnel system built by Hartness to access the observatory, museum and his secret workshop.

Guests of the Hartness House Inn have an opportunity to tour the secret tunnel, view the private workshop of Mr. Hartness, and see the observatory and telescope.  Guided tours are given by reservation only to guests of the Inn and by private invitation of the owners and Stellafane club members.

In February 1924, Popular Science magazine did a feature article on the underground system of rooms and tunnels including this drawing of the underground network of rooms and tunnels..

The Secret Underground Tunnels

The Hartness secret underground tunnel was built in 1912.  The entire tunnel system is composed of three main tunnels and one service tunnel running underneath the longest tunnel.  The longest of the main tunnels runs 242 feet from the Main House to the Observatory.  A secondary tunnel runs for 183 feet from the workshop/museum to a secret exit to Common Street.  The tunnel system was built to provide easy access to the Hartness underground study and workshop and the observatory.

The secret tunnel is accessed from Main House.  You descend 30 feet below the house.  Once you past the locked door, you enter the main tunnel.  Dark and dank, it averages 35 to 43 degrees year round.

Entrance to secret Hartness underground tunnel

Once inside the main tunnel, you feel the cold immediately.  Covered in cobwebs, you make your way to the first turn where you must turn left -- never open the door on the right.

Following an unfortunate accident, the door on the right has been permanently closed to the public.

Main secret tunnel, secret forbidden door
Continuing down the main tunnel, the cold continues to permeate you.  Dark except for the few incandescent lights, you need to be especially careful of spiders hanging from above. Dark secret tunnel, spiders, cold, scary

The tunnel is long and getting more dark.  The cold is now combined with an unusal humidity. 

The lighting system is old and frequently fails.  Once the lights go out you are surrounded in pitch blackness and the cold is even more apparent as you begin is feel the humid, dank air surrounding you.

Secret tunnel, dark and humid

The tunnel turns again.  The tunnel conducts and amplify sounds.  Listen carefully and you may notice sounds that appear to come from the walls.

The tunnel appears to be closing in, but it is only a feeling.  The cobwebs are getting thicker as is the air.


You finally reach the end of the main tunnel.  You need to pass through another locked door and you stand in front of an unusual spiral staircase.  Tight and following a sharp turn you descend to the second level.

You may wonder why there are so many locked doors.  What could the locked doors be protecting?


The Hartness Equatorial Turret Telescope and Observatory

In 1910, James Hartness built one of the most unique telescopes for an individual in the United States. The Hartness Equatorial Turret Telescope employs a sophisiticated motor-drive, transmission system and clock drive to replicate the rotation of the earth. Using the equatorial drive system makes it possible to view heavenly objects over extended periods of time notwithstanding the rotation of the earth. 

The telescope and the observatory were completely engineered, designed and manufactured  by James Hartness in Springfield, Vermont with the exception of the turret dome which was manufactured in Massachusetts.

The Hartness Equatorial Turrent Telescope was  adwarded a US patent No. 1,045,142 on November 12, 1912.



The Observatory is accessed from Main House.  You follow the main tunnel to the end and ascend the spiral staircase at the end of the tunnel.

Entrance to observatory telescope with spiral staircase

Inside the Observatory, the temperature matches the outside temperature -- intensely cold in the winter and hot in the summers.

The observatory has the feel of a submarine -- cylindrical in shape with few portholes at one end.  Aligning the telescope is done by moving  the turrent and telescope by coordinates -- there is no visual reference of the outside.

The equatorial drive, visible in the center, is driven by an electric motor sitting underneath the viewing platform.  The telescope is mounted to the dome and the equatorial drive rotates the dome turret.

Inside telescope observatory

A closer view of the equatorial drive shafts illustrate the three shafts: clockwise-counterclockwise gear shift (left), main drive shaft (center), and the equatorial drive shaft (right).

The round object directly top center is the clutch that connects the motor drive to the clock system that will rotate the turret dome.

Lens are inserted into the telescope lens holder shown here. 

The telescope is moved in a north-south direction by turning the Declination gear shown here as the large disk.  A hand crank is inserted onto the spline protruding from the lower center of the image.  Turning the crank raises and lowers the telescope.  A vernier shows the amount of degrees of declination of the telescope.

Standing on the viewing platform, you can see the clockwork gear system that when engaged rotates the telescope turret in the opposite direction and speed of the earth's rotation.  When engaged, the movement is barely perceptable.