|RARE BRADFORD CLOCK. This banjo-style clock was crafted by Bradford clockmaker Jefferson A. Hardy in the 1850s. It was recently sold at an estate auction in Geneseo, New York. (Courtesy Cottone Auctions)|
“In the present generation we have become so accustomed to the use of accurate time and the ready means of obtaining it, that we hardly realize how dependent we are upon it,” wrote William Francis Allen in an article entitled “The Reformation in Time” for the December 1884 edition of Popular Science Monthly.
This column examines the development of watches and clock as reflected in local history. It includes both personal time pieces and town clocks. The Vermont Historical Society’s collection devoted to the history of clockmakers, local town histories, historic publications and online sources provided background.
This is a timely topic leading up to New Year’s Eve. As midnight approaches that night, more local residents look at their watches and clocks simultaneously than at any other time of the year.
Simultaneous coordination was also a major event in the fall of 1883. The proliferation of railroads and telegraph created a demand for precision in determining time. To avoid accidents and missed trains, there needed to be uniformity in time.
“Llocal time” had been widely used with each community relying on something like a town clock to set the exact time for activities locally. On Nov. 18, 1883, millions of clocks across the nation were altered to conform to the new system of standardized time developed by the major railroad companies. Locally, that might have occurred on Oct. 7 when the Central Vermont Railroad adopted the system of standard time.
Town or tower clocks were introduced into the local area when one was installed in the Norwich Congregational Church in 1816. Over the next 120 years, at least 14 tower clocks were installed in local church steeples. High above the community, these clocks rang out the hour and residents set watches and domestic clocks for uniform local time. Their installation was a source of civic pride for the communities. In some cases the tax on personal timepieces encouraged the installation of a town clock.
There are at least four clockmakers represented by tower clocks still in place. Stephen Hasham of Charlestown, New Hampshire placed one of his clocks in the Haverhill Corner Brick Church in 1844. Benjamin Morrill of Boscawen installed a clock in the Orford Congregational Church in the 1850s. Of the seven known Morrill clocks this is the only one still in its original location.
Seth Thomas of Connecticut began working on clocks in 1807. The firm he later created continued to manufacture clocks of all types until the 1980s. There are at least seven Seth Thomas tower clocks in the region. They are located in the following churches: Thetford Hill Congregational (1895), North Thetford Congregational (1895), Thetford Center United Methodist (circa 1904), Groton United Methodist (1912), Post Mills Congregational (1915), Wells River Congregational (1932), South Ryegate United Presbyterian (1936).
Edward Howard of Massachusetts began manufacturing clocks in 1842. As with Thomas, his clocks are of several types. The four local Howard tower clocks are located at Bradford Congregational (1875, replaced with an electronic one in 2015-6), Lyme Congregational (1921), Fairlee Federated (1926) and Newbury Congregational (date unknown). There two other churches with tower clocks by unknown manufacturers: Warren Methodist and Ryegate Corner Presbyterian.
There is only one tower clock in a building other than a church. In 1924 the Woodsville Women’s Club raised the funds to install a clock in the Woodsville Opera House built in 1890.
While each clock fulfilled its function as the community’s “common arbiter of time,” each has aspects of its history that are similar to and different from the others. Most seem to be the first town clock in the community. However several references are made to a Bradford town clock located south of the Waits River bridge on what is now Route 5 prior to the construction of the new Congregational Church in 1875.
Several clocks were given by donors “for the benefit of the citizens” of the community whereas others were included in the original building costs or purchased with funds raised by taxes or group fund drives
Other variations include the number of clock dials and the material from which they are made. While most are wooden, several of them are translucent allowing for interior lighting. While earlier clocks often had only an hour hand, all now include minute hands.
The clocks have stopped from time to time and some are not working presently. Most have had significant repairs over the years. The most frequent repairs are having the internal works electrified, the hands replaced and the clock dial(s) restored. Major work was usually undertaken by accomplished craftsmen.
The question of the use of public funds for the maintenance of clocks located in churches was address by the Vermont Supreme Court in 1890. It determined that since a so-called town clock represented “an object of common convenience and necessity,” public funds could be used for repairs.
There have been individuals who often spent decades as the “appointed” keeper of the clock. This included winding it and keeping the mechanism in general working order. The timekeeper would have to climbing narrow stairs or ladders to the winding mechanism about once a week. It also meant removing an occasional bird, bat or squirrel that might have caused the clock to malfunction.
Before personal watches, domestic clocks and tower clocks became common, there were those who relied on the sun and stars to determine time. The Newbury history mentions that “most of the houses had their ‘noon marks’ to indicate that hour.” Apparently, “in the absence of clocks, people were often skillful in telling the hour of the night by the position of the heavenly bodies.”
By the time local communities were settled in the second half of the 18th century some residents had watches and clocks. Some were imported whereas others were manufactured by craftsmen in southern New England. Early records indicate that those that needed repair often had to be shipped to places such as Newburyport, Massachusetts. By 1830, timepieces were more common and the Ryegate census included a report of one gold and 12 silver watches and 37 brass clocks.
Soon there were watch and clockmakers in the local area. Between 1770 and 1920 there were over 50 local clock and watch makers, repairers and jewelers specializing in the sale of watches and clocks. Over time, the number of makers diminished in favor of the latter two groups.
Industrialization affected the industry. After the 1820s the increase in cast brass brought an end to wooden clock movements. The introduction of standardized watch parts in 1857 made watches more reliable.
After World War I, wrist watches became popular, replacing men’s pocket watches and women’s pendant watches. Cheaper watches and clocks reduced the number of those who repaired clocks and watches. The names Elgin and Waltham were more likely to appear on watches than any local name.
As space does not allow for all of the information that was gathered about 50 plus watch and clock craftsmen and merchants, I will highlight a few of the most significant local individuals.
John Osgood of Haverhill was a clockmaker from 1793 to 1840. “His shop had two rooms, the front one a salesroom and the rear one a workshop where was a forge for melting the brass for the clocks…” Each Osgood clock was numbered and a current dealer indicates that he has seen clocks registered in excess of 370.
Osgood clock were tall-cased or grandfather type standing over 8 feet with eight-day brass works. They featured painted dials and moon phases and calendar apertures. The cases for Osgood’s clocks were often crafted by his uncles Michael Carleton of Haverhill and Dudley Carleton of Newbury.
The only other style clock Osgood made was a gallery clock presented to the First Congregational Church of Haverhill in 1838. A photo of one of Osgood tall-case clocks has been posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com as part of my article on furniture makers.
The Hardy family of Bradford included several generations of craftsmen who worked with clocks and watches. Oliver Hardy came to Bradford in 1802. A man of many talents he was a tanner, currier, blacksmith and shoemaker. Silas McKeen’s history indicates, “As there was no one to clean and repair clocks and watches, locals brought them to him.”
Oliver’s son, Jefferson A. Hardy opened “the first scientific clock, watch and jewelry establishment in Bradford” in 1829 a business he continued until several years before his death in 1874.
The younger Hardy cleared and repaired over 33,000 watches. Through advertisement in Bradford’s National Opinion he offered his services to deal with the “real wants of fine watches.” He also made watches and clocks “of different styles and prices.”
He made and donated a gallery clock to the Congregational Society of Bradford, one that required winding only 12 times a year. Two of Jefferson’s sons, Oliver and William followed their father in the business, the former in Alabama and the latter, who also farmed, in Fairlee.
Recently I received a call from a person who had purchased a rare J. A. Hardy banjo style clock at an estate sale. It has a 53” mahogany case with an unusual eight-day skeletonized weight, brass movement and second bit hand.
There may have actually been another early clock and watch maker in Bradford. Beginning in 1805, Isaac Walker operated a business. His later advertisement read: “Ladies and gentlemen who will favor him with their custom may depend upon having their work done with neatness and dispatch.” His name is connected with the “air clock,” an instrument equipped with bellows from which escaping air regulated the driving weights.
William K. Wallace was born in Newbury in 1833. From 1855 to 1872, except for a nine-month enlistment in the Union Army, Wallace operated a watch making and jewelry business on Main Street in Newbury.
He later moved to Haverhill and opened his business in the Weeks Block on Woodsville’s Central Street, remaining there until 1889. He was also known for raising horses. His obituary in 1909 called him “one of the best known horsemen of the north country.”
Peter M. Paul operated a watch shop in Groton beginning around 1856. He was described as a “fine watchmaker” and equally adept as a cabinetmaker. It was not uncommon for watch makers to have other occupations. For example, J.W. Buzzell, watchmaker in Thetford Center from 1872 to 1880 was also listed as a dentist and pastor.
Major A. Stevens manufactured watches on Main Street in West Fairlee from 1872 until at least 1898. His nephew Charles Stevens was in the jewelry business there until 1912.
Members of the Doe Family were jewelers and watch repairers in both Bradford and Woodsville.
The Doe Brothers store in Bradford opened in 1885 offering watches along with clothing and other merchandise. Fred Dow was described as a “practical watchmaker,” advertising in 1897 that the store offered “nice watches at right prices!” In 1955, his son Franklin “Lin” Doe took over operation of the store and continued to do so until it closed in 1968.
The Woodsville store open around 1898 on Central Street. The jeweler’s sign that hung outside the store was a large gilt watch set at 18 past 8 to mark the time President Lincoln was shot. The store relocated several times within the business district before selling to C. Tabor Gates in 1913.
One of the employees of Doe’s Woodsville store was Samuel F. McAllister Sr. A native of Ryegate, McAllister trained to be a watch maker at the Walham Horological Institute. He came to Woodsville in 1901 and worked for both Doe Brothers and Gates. He bought the business in 1923 and operated it in the Opera Block.
In 1953 his grandson David took over the business and moved it to the present location on Central Street in 1963. His son Scott has operated the store since 1986 and told me that they still repair some types of watches, but not clocks.
Elwin Chase of East Topsham bought, sold and repaired old clocks in his home from the early 1950s until he moved to Connecticut in 1974. David Chipman of Shelburne said that Chase “was very skilled.” Chipman said that he purchased at least five clocks from Chase and still has an American Regulator school clock in his office.
There are still those who repair steeple and personal clocks. Norman Boyden of the Green Mt Clock Company in Williston had done so for over four decades. In a recent conversation Boyden said: “It is a thrill to put my hands on a clock that is over 100 years old and make it run again.” That is something that those who rely on modern clocks cannot appreciate.
Whether you are fortunate enough to own a clock that has been in your family for generations or use a modern timepiece, on New Year’s Eve you will join others watching the time displayed as it helps us embrace the move from the old to the new.
|Fairlee Federated Church Edward Howard clock added 1926|
|Wells River Congregational Church Seth Thomas clock added 1932|
|South Ryegate Presbyterian Church Seth Thomas clock added 1936|
|Groton Methodist Seth Thomas Clock added 1912|