- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) - Every hour, downtown Harrisonburg fills with a sound residents have become familiar with - chimes from the clock tower sitting in the middle of Court Square.

The tower that has become a city landmark since it was installed more than 140 years ago is about to get a face-lift.

Within the next four months, the glass in the clock tower’s four faces will be replaced at an expected cost of $20,000, said Rockingham County Administrator Stephen King. Harrisonburg and Rockingham are jointly responsible for the courthouse and will split the cost of the project.

The clock tower doesn’t just offer the time to passers-by, it also reminds onlookers of the city’s early history.

Harrisonburg’s council ordered the clock tower from E. Howard & Co. of Boston after the fourth Rockingham County Courthouse was built in 1874.

The tower arrived in February 1875, Dale MacAllister, resident historian of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society wrote in his article, “Harrisonburg’s Town Clock and Some Issues With the Fifth Courthouse.”

The 3,700-pound tower featured an 814-pound bell and 12-foot pendulum.

“This actually went most of the distance, (and it) just (went) back and forth, back and forth,” said Clerk of Court Chaz Haywood, who gave the Daily News-Record a tour of the clock tower on Friday.

The tower also had an 1,800-pound weight that activated the clock’s striking mechanism, MacAllister wrote.

In the late 1800s, residents relied on the clock for many of their daily activities.

“We didn’t all run around with cellphones at the time,” Haywood said. “That bell rang and probably told people when to go to school, when to go to work, when to go to lunch, when to come home.”

Upgrades To Come

About 15 years after the clock tower was installed, the Rockingham Board of Supervisors replaced the courthouse, which was too small, MacAllister wrote.

Before the courthouse was torn down in 1896, the tower was removed and stored until the construction of the current building was finished in 1897 at a cost of $97,000.

The clock tower also received an upgrade during that time. The clock’s black faces were changed to white and the gold numerals were replaced with black ones, MacAllister wrote. It also received new gold hands.

After the clock tower was installed, lights were placed behind the faces to illuminate them.

The clock converted from manual to automatic when it received a $1,300 upgrade in the early 1900s, MacAllister wrote. The clock’s weights were replaced with electronic controls.

Today, the clock sounds when its original hammer hits a bell, Haywood said. The hammer is connected to a cable that is pulled when a wheel made up of several prongs turns.

The clock tower hasn’t received any major upgrades since it switched to automatic.

In the late 1980s or early ‘90s, the tower was cleaned of pigeon waste that had accumulated throughout the years.

“Once they did that, they screened it off to pigeons,” said Wanda Spangler, a judicial secretary who has worked in the courthouse for 30 years.

The clock tower’s yearly maintenance remains limited.

Eric Hostetter, Rockingham County’s facilities manager, said the clock is adjusted, cleaned and lubricated twice a year.

“If you pay close attention, you see different colors of the glass,” Hostetter said. “It’s kind of a hodgepodge of pieces that make up the faces.”

Hostetter said the maintenance can be expected with the older building and aged clock.

“It takes some care, but it’s amazing how well it keeps time,” he said.


Information from: Daily News-Record, https://www.dnronline.com

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