It’s high time for a serious discussion about the clock in the tower of the Madison County Courthouse.
Local resident Tim Wilson, an advocate for historical preservation, and Phil Wright of Tower Clock Restoration in South Charleston, spoke with Madison County Commissioners Tuesday about the clock’s restoration.
The two want to use an original Seth Thomas mechanism from the early 20th century to restore the clock.
To describe the current mechanism running the clock, Commissioner David Dhume used two words: “A pain.”
Wilson, however, finds it painful to see the clock’s four faces having four different time readings all at once. Restoring the original mechanism would make all four dials read the same, he said.
The original clock was installed in 1890 at the time the courthouse was built. The clock was gravity-driven by weights, which had to be hand wound every eight days. The mechanism, was located in the clock house below the tower and bell in about the 1950s, when it as relocated from the clock house to the area inside the clock dials for reasons unknown.
At the same time, the original Seth Thomas gear assembly was replaced with a modern gear assembly in the frame of the original mechanism.
In April 1974, an F-5 tornado struck the tower and damaged the courthouse, but the mechanism survived in tact. However, the clock dials were destroyed.
Following, the pieces and dials were placed on display at The Madison County Fairgrounds for several years. After the historical society stopped organizing the display, Wright was contacted to salvage some of its original mechanism and has preserved it since.
Despite the set being incomplete, Wright saved the pieces because the Seth Thomas Model 17 mechanism is rare, he said. Wright has many parts from the original clock, and another model 17 mechanism which could offer donor parts to make a complete set, he said. The clock would run exactly as it did in 1890, except be electrically operated.
Parts and labor, including recreating the original dials in powder-coated aluminum, are roughly estimated at $80,000 “to do it right,” Wright said. He said he would also need some assistance with labor since his is a one-man operation.
Wilson also would like to see the ornamentation, which graced the courthouse pre-tornado, restored as well. He has photos of the courthouse showing those ornaments.
“This is a symbol of our county,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to do something.”
Commissioner Mark Forrest said if it were done correctly, it could endure another 50 years.
Commissioner Paul Gross said the roof of the courthouse stands as number one priority.
“In terms of keeping everything dry, we have to bite the bullet,” Gross said.
Dean Shipley can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 17 or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.