145-year-old clock needs work
Clock face on the Second Congragational Church in Greenfield
The bell from the white church in Coldbrook in Enfield that use to ring in the Quabbin Valley.
clock drive detail
Doug Clarke, Chairman of the Property Committee at the 2nd Congregational Church in Greenfield, with the clock works and striking mechanism in the steeple of the church on the Common.
The four universal joints and shafts that turn the hands on the exterior clock faces.
Looking up the interior of the steeple of the 2nd Congregational Church in Greenfield. The chase going up used to house the huge weights used to power the clock.
Clock face on the Second Congragational Church in Greenfield
GREENFIELD — Time has marched on since the town clock was erected in the steeple of the Second Congregational Church on Court Square, and the four wooden faces of that 145-year-old clock need to be replaced once again.
Douglas Clarke, chairman of the church’s Property Management Committee, said the wood has warped and has interfered with the movement of the hands on a couple of the clock’s faces.
“The clock has been in the steeple since 1869, when the church building was built,” replacing the original brick building, said Clarke, 61, who has been a member of the church since he was in first grade.
He said over the past few years, not all of the faces have worked due to the warping, but they are working for now.
“They do need to be replaced, though,” said Clarke, who said early estimates are for between $12,000 and $15,000 to replace all four faces. He said it will cost about $3,500 per face.
“It’s very, very difficult to get up there and repair the faces,” he said. “You can just barely get one arm out of the window to each face. We had to have the fire department’s help one time.”
Clarke said each face is made up of individual wooden boards, which run diagonally. He said now that they are warped, some of them “cup” and get in the way of the hands moving.
“It’s actually rare to see a tower or steeple clock with that type of face,” he said.
Clarke has worked over the years with Recorder Editor Timothy Blagg and Neal Gifford to effect repairs and replacements on the clock faces, as well as the mechanism itself.
A little history
The clock was built by the E. Howard Watch and Clock Co. of Boston in 1868 and purchased from J.H. Hollister for $598.54. The half-ton weights, which no longer have to be laboriously cranked up to power the works and the striker, were cast at the foundry of Felt & Co., which used to be located on Mill Street, where Greenfield Steel Stamp Co. was located.
The Town of Greenfield paid $675.80 to the contractor who built the church that stands there today to install the clock.
According to town records, Greenfield, which is still owner of the clock, paid the church sexton $50 for weekly winding. A local watch and clock repairman received an annual fee of $75 from the town to maintain the clock.
In 1953, the clock, which is located 87 steps up in the steeple, was electrified, which is when the weights and the long pendulum that regulated the clock were eliminated. One small motor runs the works, the other drives the striker, which tolls out the time.
In 1965, the motor burned out and the clock went idle for a few years.
In 1968, the church asked the town for financial help to repair the clock, but a town committee decided to proceed with repairs at no expense to taxpayers.
Instead, contributions from people who wanted to see the repairs done helped pay for them, and after all was said and done, there was $125 left in a savings account to go toward future repairs.
Also in 1968, the clock motors and the lighting of the clock faces was metered to the town, and today the town still pays for the electricity to run and illuminate the clock.
Clarke said the church will most likely go before the town and ask for some help in paying for new clock faces.
He said the church also has to do a lot of repair to its steeple, so the cost is going to be great and the church has to depend on donations.
Mayor William Martin said he would like to see the church put its concerns, ideas and requests on paper, and he will take them to the Town Council, which would have to approve any money the town might contribute.
Martin said he’d also like to find out if the church is eligible to participate in the town’s facade improvement program, which, if it is, could mean the church would receive a federal grant to help pay for repairs to, and replacement of, the clock faces.
“It’s such a beautiful part of our town,” said Clarke. “One of the faces looks out onto the Town Common. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Clarke said taking care of the clock has been a labor of love for him, Blagg, Gifford and others over the years.
“We’re not experts, but we’ve done our best,” he said.
Clarke said the church would like to keep the numerals, minute markers and metal hands, if possible. He said they will have to be re-coated. The numerals are hand-painted on small pieces of wood, which are fastened to each face.
“We’d like to keep a piece of history up there,” he said.
Clarke said the church will be going out to bid for the clock faces and the steeple separately.
He said the campaign to raise money for the two projects will also be done separately.
Clarke said it could cost up to $100,000 for the work on the steeple.
He said the church has 211 members, and a little more than half of those pledge money each year during the church’s annual appeal.
He said that money goes into the church’s operating budget and is used as well for other repairs to and maintenance of the church, which is a dominant presence on the common.
Clarke said the steeple and clock deck — which houses a small enclosure to protect the works — are full of history.
“People have gone up there over the years and written on the walls,” Clarke said. “There are names and initials. It’s wonderful.”
The large bell just below the clock deck originally came to town with a small white church purchased by the area’s Christian Scientists from the Coldbrook Springs Baptist congregation. The church was built in 1842 but had to be moved in 1936 when the Quabbin Reservoir was flooded.
The bell was surplus and was used to replace the original one, which had cracked.
Clarke said there is a “beautiful view of downtown Greenfield” from the clock deck.
“The clock is such a prominent feature,” said Clarke. “It’s so aesthetically pleasing and people love it. It would be sorely missed if it wasn’t there. It looks over the town creche, the farmers market, and all sorts of town activities.”
Clarke said over the past several years, the church has spent $500,000 to replace its roof, $250,000 to replace its old heating system, and the steeple repair project and clock faces replacement project will be the last major project the church will do for a while.
He said the church would like to have the clock faces replaced by next summer.