News

Wilton Town Hall clock gets needed facelift

Thursday, July 28, 2011

By Jessie Salisbury

WILTON – The clock in the town hall tower has looked a little odd these past few weeks with no hands, giving it a really “blank stare.”

On Thursday, the hands, newly sanded and painted a bright white, were ready to be reinstalled as soon as the mechanisms that control them had been cleaned of many years worth of grease and grime.

Mike St. Clair has been working on the clock for “about a month,” he said as he has had time.

The clock was not keeping time, the hands were sticking, he said, “and we thought water was getting to them. I decided to clean it since I have the time and the ability.”

The hands are made of wood, he said, and the heat and humidity affect them.

Thursday was in the middle of a heat wave and St. Clair was not in the tower. He had moved his work bench out onto the steps at the Maple Street entrance and rigged up a fan. He was working on one of the large brass gears that control the movement of the clock’s hands.

“This needed to be done even if it isn’t the problem,” he said. “There’s about 50 years of grease and grime to remove.”

Dennis Markaverich, owner of the Town Hall Theater, has been the winder of the clock for many years, but admits he is not a clock engineer. “I just keep it wound and put on some oil once in a while,” he said.

St. Clair said, “Dennis mentioned how it had stopped working. I’d been up there when it was being wound and it interested me, it ticking away up there. Dennis calls it the ‘heart beat of the town hall.’”

St. Clair, 21, who lives in Wilton, is a junior at Southern N.H. University, majoring in information technology. “That’s computers,” he said, “so I’m used to working on more delicate things than this.”

He needed some information, he said, “So I found a manual for a turret clock, that’s what they call this kind. It was on the Internet. It was made for anyone who has a clock to wind. It goes over everything from winding to cleaning.” He added, “It was surprisingly simple to take apart.”

He noted, “Dennis had some parts made a while ago,” when the clock had stopped, “somebody at Hitchner’s.” He pointed to some obviously different small pieces.

St. Clair picked up several gears and fitted them together. “This connects the power to one side, which turns the others with the gears.”

The problem with the clock, he said, “It’s out of beat. It doesn’t tick in the proper sequence so it eventually stops. They have to share the same tick. I have to slow down the hour hand.”

So the problem may be in the pendulum, which he will check out when the clock has been reassembled. “It hasn’t been adjusted in years,” he said.

St. Clair looked at the gears he had thoroughly cleaned. “It is kind of fun to work on something this old, most people can’t say that. It’s kind of amazing who figured all this out in the 1800s and it’s still going.”

The town hall was built in 1883 and a date carved into the beams by the clock (along with some initials) is 1884.

St. Clair works on the clock when he has time and recently spent a long night on the project. In between, of course, he sells tickets and pop corn at the theater.

And the clock will soon be back together again, telling the proper time.

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