New England is known for its town halls and town meetings. Not often mentioned is the Town Clock, an equally important feature all but forgotten now in many towns. Until recently, our Town Clock bell traditionally served as the heartbeat for life here, marking the time and the day’s obligations, meetings and events for citizens and visitors alike. A volunteer “Town Winder” periodically maintained the device, adjusting it to make sure you could set your watch by the clock’s hourly note. Most of the original mechanical clocks are silent due to neglect, damage by bird guano and water. Some were replaced by electronic devices with speakers tolling obviously imitation chimes.
Shelburne’s Seth-Thomas Town Clock is still where it was when installed in 1927 but also silent. It is in surprisingly good condition, but it needs an overhaul before being restarted. Today, almost no one can remember hearing the thump of its clapper and its robust tone in B flat tolling the hours every day. According to records in Shelburne Historical Society archives, as nearly as one can determine, the large bronze bell donated by William Seward and Lila Osgood Webb last rang in 1988.
The clock and its bell were largely forgotten until photographed by contractors for the new Pierson Library in 2018. Though its restoration was not a part of that project, the Town committed to accomplishing that project as a community-based self-funding project at a later date.
That date has now arrived.
On Oct. 5, after a brief fundraising campaign, focused on donations from individual citizens and young people, Lee Krohn, Shelburne’s Town Manager, will submit an application for a Historic Preservation Grant to Vermont’s Division of Historic Preservation to restore the clock and take measures to increase its public awareness. While the sound of the bell tolling the time should accomplish that goal, the project will include a plaque with a graphic representation of clockworks and bell with acknowledgments to the Webb family and project donors.
If the grant is approved, David Welch of “The Clock Shop” in Vergennes will dismantle the device, take it to his shop for the overhaul, reassemble it in place when finished. An electronic regulator will be installed on the clock to make sure the bell strikes on satellite time. A date then will be set to celebrate the clock’s reactivation.
The grant will fund 50 percent of the $10,000 project budget. Because the project emphasizes public awareness and education, fundraising must raise $5,000 by Oct. 5 with emphasis on personal donations, particularly from our young citizens-to-be. Donations by businesses are discouraged. Excess funds received will be set aside by the town for clock maintenance and related projects.
Those wishing to contribute should write their checks to “Town of Shelburne” with “Clock Restoration Project” on the Memo line. Mail to Town of Shelburne, P. O. Box 88, Shelburne, VT 05482.