Saturday, March 7th, 2020

As Time Goes By

126-year-old clock's mechanism to get tweak for daylight saving time

By Aaron Snyder
Photo by Aaron Snyder/The Daily Standard

The original clock installed in the First Church of New Knoxville counts 86,400 seconds every day, and has done so for the past 126 years.

When First Church of New Knoxville's founders laid the cornerstone of their church at the intersection of St. Marys and Bremen streets, they built upon that rock a clock tower.
The tower and the original timepiece are still in operation today, much as they were 126 years ago.
"This original part of the sanctuary and the clock tower have been a part of it since the very beginning," the Rev. Joel Bucklin said. "So as the town has changed, as additions have been made to the church, the clock tower has been a part of it that whole time."
The machine that keeps time by today's standard is hundreds of pounds of steel and brass, ticking away with the aid of a pendulum a perfect second at a time. The piece was made in Massachusetts and installed in 1894, one story above its current location.
"It was installed as part of this original church building, and it has been functioning here ever since then," Bucklin said. "In 2010 we actually had it disassembled, refurbished, restored and reinstalled here. So what you see here is still the original mechanisms of the clock, but refurbished and put in better working order."
"The only modifications made to it when it was refurbished and reinstalled was the counterweight system so that it doesn't have to be manually wound when the time comes to do that," he continued. "But everything you see here is original to when the clock was first installed 126 year ago."
A single driveshaft begins the ascension to the top of the tower and the clock faces from the balcony level of the sanctuary, where the timepiece resides. It climbs four flights to a central cog that spins four other shafts that connect to the clock faces.
"Churches have always been the centers of communities, especially small towns. When a town is first founded and settled, that's one of the first things that's established is a church, and it's a center of that community," Brucklin said. "So having a clock in the day and age when people didn't have iPhones and watches to wear around themselves, it was a way to center the community and a source to keep time for the day. And that's why the bells toll at the hour and everything. Obviously it's kind of unnecessary in a lot of ways now, but we still do it as a part of that tradition and history of keeping time for the town."
Daylight saving time begins Sunday morning, necessitating the biannual task of changing all clocks by an hour. Although this adjustment was not part of the original plan for the timepiece as daylight saving time was not nationally established in the United States until 1974, the task is not overly time consuming.
"One of the gentlemen who helps maintain this, he'll come up, and it'll be just kind of like rewinding a clock that you have in your own house. You have to manually reset it and let it go. I don't know the exact details that are involved in that, but yeah, it's not too hard of a process to come up here and readjust the time," Bucklin said.
Adjustments are required from time to time due to external forces such as the wind on the hands of the clocks. The hands are so large that they act as sails, catching wind and rotating when they shouldn't.
"Whenever we need to make adjustments to the time on the clock, we have someone who needs to go up to the clock tower and adjusts things from the top there to the actual face of the clock," Buckland said. "It isn't the easiest thing to do because you're on the inside of the tower, trying to adjust the time on the outside of it. Sometimes it requires someone on the ground spotting the clock and letting you know if you got everything right. But it isn't too difficult to do that."
"It's something that needs to be done every once in a while anyways," he continued. "You know, with the clock tower the way it is, sometimes some strong winds will get the hands off a little bit. We'll get a call once in a while that the south tower, the south-facing clock is 10 minutes off or something like that so they'll have to go and adjust it. It's something that happens on a somewhat regular basis and definitely not too much of a task."
Counting one rhythmic second at a time for 126 years is almost 4 billion ticks of the clock in the timepiece's tenure.
"It looks complicated, but it's actually very simple. It's a pendulum swinging, it's gears that click back and forth. I mean it's nothing too sophisticated," Bucklin said. "It's technology from the late 1800s and it's still working and still operating today. It just needs to be maintained and taken care of once in a while like everything else does."
"This original part of the sanctuary and the clock tower has been a part of it since the very beginning," he added. "So as the town has changed, as additions have been made to the church, the clock tower has been a part of it that whole time.
"The more things change the more they stay the same, you know that idea that technology has advanced, especially if you think about the last 130 years almost, it's amazing how much things have changed, and yet … here we are with this clock from 1894 still keeping time and is something we still look to keep us on track."
Photo by Aaron Snyder/The Daily Standard

The church's bells, covered with the writing of previous attendees, are suspended two flights below the four clock faces. The bells ring on the hour.

Photo by Aaron Snyder/The Daily Standard

The clock tower of First Church of New Knoxville rises above the structure at the corner of Bremen and St. Marys streets.

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