Works used to run courthouse clock
When the project to make the bell ring in the Washington County Courthouse clock tower was going on, some people became interested in the mechanical clockworks that are stored in the clock tower.
According to “In the Beginning There was Land, A History of Washington County, Iowa” by Kathy Fisher, the clock atop the courthouse is 139 years old and in its second home. Its first home was the Washington Academy.
The Academy was located where the Washington Community Y is located. It was built in 1874.
“The Academy was a highly valued part of the community for many years, but finally closed in 1910,” the history book reports.
“The clock was weight driven; on one occasion, while classes were in session, a cable broke and one of the weights plunged the length of its runway and imbedded itself in the basement floor,” Fisher writes.
When the courthouse was built in 1886, the tower was built with an 8-foot space at the top for a clock. But there was no clock until 1920. When the Academy was torn down, city and county officials decided to put the clock atop the courthouse.
“The big bell started its journey to the tower on April 7, 1920; it weighed over 1,000 pounds, and had to be pulled up two long flights of stairs — with several twists and turns — and then hoisted two stories into the tower, ” Fisher states.
Fisher also writes that the other parts of the clock weren’t as difficult to get into the tower. The clock was built by the Howard Clock Co. of Waltham, Mass. In 1920, experts from the clock company got the clock running in its new home.
In March 1966, the clock had been working intermittently for many years. The County Historical Society raised money to rebuild or replace the clock. The cost estimate was $5,000. Carlton C. Wilson, lifelong resident of Washington and a lawyer for 64 years, died. His will provided up to $6,000 for the repair or replacement of the clock.
In 1969, the clock faces and numerals were painted and new aluminum hands were installed. At 2:45 p.m., March 26, 1969, Mrs. Carlton C (Julia) Wilson threw the switch to start the clock.
During a recent interview, Carlton Mangold of the Washington County Historical Society said he would like to have the old clockworks to be put on display for city and county residents to see.
“They’re going to have to take this apart,” he said. “We also need to find a place that would let us put it in there.”
Mangold would also like to see a good set of stairs be built so the public could gain access to the clock tower.
So far, no plans have been made to relocate the clockworks.