Clock tower local centerpiece for more than a century - Home

Clock tower local centerpiece for more than a century

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Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2007 12:00 am

It stands among the treetops, a reminder of how Father Time ticks along during the hustle and bustle of activity around the Henry County Courthouse square.

The courthouse's clock tower has been a fixture of Paris ever since the courthouse was constructed in 1896.

Most things do change with time, and the clock is no different. After operating with a pendulum its first 50 years or so, the clock was modified in the 1950s to run on electricity.

John Van Dyck, retired ophthalmologist, volunteered to begin maintaining the clock in 1983.

He said the clock had not run for 15-20 years when he took it upon himself to get the clock back to working order.

"I'm a clock enthusiast so it was sort of natural for me to fall into that," said Van Dyck. "I repaired clocks for extra money while in school."

However, actually getting to the clock was no easy task. Van Dyck said the wooden floor surrounding the clock was rotten, and pigeons had been roosting in the clock tower for more than a decade because a shutter going outside had been left open.

He and several of his friends wore masks and treaded carefully up and down the several flights of dark, steep, narrow steps to remove about 4 feet of pigeon waste that surrounded the clock.

"We basically excavated the clock," he said.

He later installed a new floor around the clock.

Van Dyck said the clock today "is in amazingly good shape," especially after what it's been through during its more than 110 years atop the courthouse.

The clock was manufactured by Edward Howard in Boston, who Van Dyck said was "the best clock maker" of the time.

"As long as the electricity is on, it's going to keep perfect time," he said.

When the electricity goes off, the clock has to be reset. The hands of the clock are always about two minutes off simply because of age, but Van Dyck said it's hardly noticeable. The bell's chiming is exactly accurate.

According to an article published in The Post-Intelligencer in 1996 about the 100th anniversary of the courthouse, the bell has an interesting story.

The bell was once used as a school bell of the Odd Fellows Female Institute which was located at the corner of McNeill and Market streets. It had been used to sound the beginning of the school day from 1854 until 1890 when the building burned.

So, according to that information, the bell those around the court square hear chiming on the hour and on the half-hour is more than 150 years old.

Most people don't notice if the clock stops, but they definitely miss the chiming of the bell after a few days, said Van Dyck.

It's really easier for two people to maintain the clock, he said, and Russell Johnson of Paris has been learning about the workings of the clock for about a year.

When the clock needs a major time adjustment, one person stands outside the courthouse to see the clock's hands and the other stands inside the clock tower to adjust metal bars attached to the clock's hands. They use two-way radios to talk to each other to set the appropriate time.

Van Dyck and Johnson completed some repairs on the clock the morning of April 4. The metal bar going to the west clock hands had fallen off and the bell striking wire had broken. They also had to adjust the hands to suit the correct hour to the bell's chiming.

"It's going to need a little repair from time to time," said Van Dyck, but all in all it's still a well-working clock.

The clock's dials are in need of repainting, he said, but a professional crew will probably have to be hired for that.

When he first began his exploration of the clock tower, he found a large pear-shaped piece of iron which was the clock's pendulum bob on the floor below the area where the clock is located.

Van Dyck said years ago when the pendulum was cut off, it fell straight through the floor. He knew this because the pendulum bob was laying below a hole in the floor.

He said the county executive at the time allowed him to keep the pendulum bob as a keepsake for volunteering to care for the clock.

The clock still holds some mystery for Van Dyck because he said he has never completely figured out how the clock and bell worked before it became electrified.

A combination of gears, wheels and other mechanical pieces, he said the clock is "a treasure of the county."

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