Original clock will count the minutes again

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Taken in 2017 during interior repair work to the Madison County Courthouse clock tower, this photo shows two of the four faces connected to the tower clock (the small metal mechanism shown in the center of the picture). The county commissioners recently voted to restore and install the original clock mechanism, which dates back to the 1892, and replace the clock faces, including the white backgrounds, hands and numbers.

(Posted Dec. 7, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The Madison County commissioners can tick another task off their to-do list. They have made a decision about the courthouse clock.

Just before Thanksgiving, the commissioners voted 2-1 to restore the clock to its original condition. The clock hasn’t reliably kept time for several years. Some of the faces have stopped working altogether.

The commissioners considered several options. Two possibilities were to repair or replace the existing clock mechanism, installed in 1974 after the Xenia tornado damaged the clock tower. A new clock mechanism would have cost roughly $30,000.

Phil Wright, an expert in tower clock restoration, has the original clock mechanism from the Madison County Courthouse stored at his shop in South Charleston.

The third option was to restore and install the original clock mechanism and replace the clock faces, including the white backgrounds, hands and numbers. The original clock dates back to 1982. The initial estimate for this option was $120,000. It is now $95,000, thanks to volunteers who have stepped up to reduce labor costs.

Commissioners David Dhume and David Hunter voted for the full restoration option. Mark Forrest voted against it.

“To me, financially it didn’t make sense,” Forrest said, adding that the county has other financial priorities.

Hunter and incoming commissioner Dr. Tony Xenikis have been big proponents of bringing the clock back to its original state. They have talked extensively with Phil Wright, an expert in tower clock restoration who has the original clock mechanism in storage at his shop in South Charleston.

Dhume said the deciding factor for him was the money that Madison County Treasurer Donna Landis pledged to the project.

“That was quite helpful to us in making our decision,” he said.

The commissioners approved $60,000 from the general fund for the project. When Landis heard they needed more money, she offered up funds from her office’s delinquent tax fund. Mobile home taxes, special assessments, and 5 percent of the county’s delinquent property tax collections go into the fund. She said she will use money from the fund to cover the remaining cost of the project.

These are cast iron numbers from the original Madison County Courthouse clock. They measure 17 inches tall. They are part of the Madison County Historical Society’s collection and will serve as a reference for creating new aluminum numbers in the original style.

“I just want it fixed,” Landis said. “It’s an embarrassment to the county to have a clock that doesn’t work. I think people depend on it.”

Originally, the county was going to put the project out to bid. By law, any expenditure over $50,000 must go out to bid.

On Dec. 4, Rob Slane, county administrator, said the project is no longer going out to bid. Instead, it has been broken down into three separate projects–restoration of the clock mechanism, installation of the clock mechanism, and reproduction of the hands and numbers–each of which will cost less than $50,000.

The project has tight specs, the main one being use of the original clock mechanism. According to Wright, the 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. The striker is a 55-pound hammer connected to the mechanism. The county has restored the 3,000-pound bell, which hangs in the clock tower.

Wright acquired the clock about 25 years ago from the Madison County Historical Society, which was downsizing its collection in a move from the county fairgrounds in London.

“It was going to be discarded. I told Phil to come and get it,” said Tim Wilson, an antique-clock enthusiast who was on the Madison County Fair Board at the time.

Wright said he has held onto the clock all these years in the hopes that it would one day return to its original place.

Slane said he is waiting to receive final project paperwork and costs from Wright. The first phases will be the clock repair and installation. The third phase will be the creation and installation of the faces. Altogether, the project will take about nine months to complete, Slane said.

Wilson, who is volunteering his time to help with the clock project, recently contacted the Madison County Historical Society to see if they had any other parts from the original clock. It turns out they have two of the numbers, the V (5) and the XI (11); they are made out of cast iron. They will serve as references for creating new numbers out of aluminum that match the original style. The new hands will be made of aluminum, too; each will be eight feet long.

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