Clayton County Courthouse - Clock restoration moves forward

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Here’s a file photo of the clock before restoration work was done.

The face of the Clayton County Courthouse clock has been restored to its original state. The rest of the renovation work will be completed next summer.

By Pat McTaggart

Freelance Writer

Restoration of the Clayton County Courthouse clock is one step closer to completion. 

Clock restorer Rory DeMise and his Minneapolis-based crew last week replaced the refurbished clock face. The remaining work on the clock and bell room portions of the tower, including metal and wood shingle roofs, restoration/replacement and repainting of all wood trim, and weather vane, will be done next summer. The remaining work will cost about $200,000 and has been folded into the county budget.

E. Howard Clock Company, Boston, MA, maker of the courthouse, created about 3,500 clocks over the years they were in business. Clayton County’s clock is a Model #2 with time and strike. Considered the “Cadillac of clocks,” it was the last model built by the company. Only about 600 were made. Restoration of the clock mechanism to its original condition took about 600-700 hours. The mechanism drives four clocks and should last about 100 years. DeMise did a 100 percent conservation job,  bringing it back to the original condition as it was in 1896 when delivered to Elkader. Old time methods were used to restore the clock. Its gears are made of leaded brass and the clock weighs approximately 800 pounds. The original hubs and counter weights were used from the old clock workings. New clock dials have been made using a historic method called smalting. They have a dark ground glass that will protect the wooden base of the clock dials from moisture.

DeMise also made the new hands for the faces of the clock. The black clock numerals on the old faces that stood out against a chipped white back round have been replaced with 23-carat gold leafing that should last 30-40 years before it needs to be touched up. An original document shows that the first hands were also gold leaf.

The new 23-carat gold leafed hands have been made from a historic template and are on all four dials. They stand out, shining brightly against the dark background that was the color the clock face when it was originally installed. The wood used was old growth redwood and is the oldest wood in the courthouse. It was salvaged from a bank in Minnesota.  The old growth redwood is desirable since the grain is close which means water penetration will be minimal.  

Other portions of the clock tower have also been restored. The balustrades surrounding the walkway of the tower were removed and refinished, with rotted wood being replaced. Window sash and all wood trim on the tower base have been stripped of paint and restored and repainted from the top of the columns to the underside of the window sills.  The cracked or modern window glass was replaced with glass removed from historic original windows salvaged when the courthouse windows were replaced in 1992.

The project has been financed with state and local grants, contributions from Clayton County communities, Clayton County and events sponsored by the Clayton County Historic Preservation Commission (CCHPC).  Approximately 800 hours of donated labor by various county residents and CCHPC members also helped with the restoration.

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