Courthouse clock: It’s about time

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Two of the faces on the Madison County Courthouse clock tower show the right time, two do not. The commissioners are looking into repairing or replacing the existing clock or restoring and installing the original clock.

(Posted Oct. 10, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The Madison County commissioners have decided it’s time to find a fix for the courthouse tower clock.

The faces on the north and south sides of the tower show the right time, but the west and east faces are stuck at 6 o’clock. A shaft is missing and shear pins attached to the clock’s small gears repeatedly break, requiring ongoing repairs.

Rob Slane, county administrator, said options are to repair or replace the existing clock or restore and reinstall the tower’s original clock, which Phil Wright, an expert in tower clock restoration, has in storage in South Charleston.

Slane has contacted the Verdin Co., a sixth-generation clock and bell manufacturer in Cincinnati, for repair and replacement estimates. The existing clock was installed in 1974 after the Xenia tornado damaged the clock tower. Slane does not have an official estimate in hand; the ballpark cost for replacement is $15,000 to $20,000.

At the commissioners’ meeting on Oct. 2, Commissioner David Dhume asked about the third option, restoration of the original clock. Wright’s estimate for that project is $125,000.

“Can we restore the old clock back to its original character and put that into the cost of the roof?” Dhume proposed.

The county is in the midst of major repairs to the courthouse, including roof work. Dhume said preservation of the original clock would “make people happy.”

“I think it will upset more people than it will make happy,” countered Commissioner Mark Forrest, suggesting instead that the county have the clock repaired as soon as possible and continue to research the long-term options. “Then at least the clock is working until we decide what we’re going to do.”

Wright acquired the original clock approximately 25 years ago from the Madison County Historical Society, which was downsizing its collection in a move from the county fairgrounds. The Society gave the clock to Wright at no charge.

“It’s one of the first things I got when I started my business,” said Wright, who owns the Tower Clock Co. in South Charleston and travels far and wide, restoring clocks. “These originals are big powerhouse things. They don’t make them like this anymore.”

Wright said Madison County’s No. 17 Seth Thomas clock is rare. It’s one of the bigger clocks the company made and is capable of striking a very large bell.

“I’ve had the opportunity to sell it many times, but I never did because what I’ve always hoped for is it would go back to its original place,” Wright said.

Wright owns the clock mechanism only. He does not have the original dials (the hands and numerals). By studying photos of the old clock, he said he could recreate the dials, laser-cutting them out of aluminum. Another possibility is to find the original dial patterns and create cast iron dials. As for repairs to the clock mechanism, Wright said he could make patterns for parts using a Seth Thomas clock he acquired from Belmont County.

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