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Back in time

Henry County community rallies
to restore historic clock tower

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

NEW CASTLE, Ky. (August 2006) – Dennis Yeary is a man with a mission. Backed by a group of civic-minded citizens, Yeary undertook the feat of having the Henry County Courthouse tower clock restored, a project that was long overdue in the minds of many.
Yeary was part of the 2003 Leadership Henry County class that chose to restore the tower clock, a project they thought would enhance a historical piece of the county. Each year, the Leadership class program targets community issues and educates a group of potential county leaders.

Dennis Yeary

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Dennis Yeary, with other community
members, took on the task of restoring
the 130-year-old courthouse relic.

The antique E. Howard mechanical clock hadn’t been used in decades but still sat intact in the courthouse clock tower. Based in Boston, E. Howard & Co. was one of the two largest manufacturers of tower clocks at one time, their competition coming from Seth Thomas.
Rather than letting the malfunctioning clock become an eyesore, the class participants decided to find a professional that could completely rework this existing peace of history for everyone to enjoy. They contacted David Neal, a Lincoln County, Ky., resident experienced at restoring antique tower clocks.
Bette Peyton, a Leadership member, had read about Neal in “Kentucky Living” magazine. Deciding he was the right man for the job, the Leadership class contacted Neal to restore the tower clock.
He first had to wipe the grime from the clock-pigeon droppings and rust. What he discovered was that all the pieces of the clock were still there, a truly remarkable fact for a 130-year-old clock. Neal took the clock back to his workshop and spent at least 1,000 hours restoring it.
At his workshop in Turnersville, six miles outside of Stanford, Neal turned his full attention to the clock that he said intrigued him from first sight.
“It was a typical looking model E Howard except for its size,” said Neal.
The fact that it was still intact was amazing, he said. “A lot of old courthouse clocks have been picked apart for souvenirs and other reasons.”
Through Neal’s business, Tower Clock Restoration and Repair, he not only restores antique clocks but builds new clock mechanisms as well. He provides a 10-year warranty and is assisted by his fiancé Robin Kruer.
Since beginning his own business in September 1999, the pair has traveled all over the United States to repair clocks. He recently returned from Georgetown, Texas, where he is restoring three clocks. Neal also traveled to the Virgin Islands last June for a project.
Neal said he receives a lot of satisfaction from taking an old machine and putting it back together.” Tower clocks were the community timepieces before pocket watches were invented, he said.
Yeary said the Leadership class sought a project such as this one that would involve the entire community. “We wanted to restore the courthouse clock to museum quality,” Yeary said.

Henry County Clock Tower

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

The Henry County
Courthouse clock tower
has been fully restored.

In 1971, a Verdin electrical clock replaced the original, but it also became inoperable. The Leadership class contacted Tom Hayden, a retired aerospace electronic engineer from Ohio, to repair the electrical clock. Yeary said he replaced bearings, got the bells chiming and lights working so that the clock can be seen at night.
Even before restoration efforts began, Yeary said the tower clock was valued at $70,000. It was purchased at a price of $550 when the courthouse was built in 1877 and carried with it a reputation that it was built to last 200 years.
Yeary said $20,000 to $25,000 was raised to complete the project. The refurbished clock was unveiled in January 2006. Any extra funding received has been set aside for maintenance. Many hours of volunteer time was donated as well.
Stewart Prather was recruited by his sister, Marty Stahl, to craft a museum quality display case for the original clock and its associated apparatus on the first floor of the courthouse. “It seemed like an exciting project,” said Prather, a Louisville attorney.
Knowing that Prather dabbled in woodworking, the class thought he would be the perfect choice to create a case for the clock. The wood came from a 24-inch diameter wild cherry tree on Prather’s family farm on the outskirts of New Castle. It took Prather the better part of two years, working on available weekends, to finish the project.
“The hardest part was the design,” said Prather. He made several trips to the Speed Museum in Louisville to view display cases and decide what would be a suitable design for this tower clock exhibit.
“We wanted a display cases that would be attractive but not overwhelming and take away from the focus of the exhibit,” said Prather. It is over six feet tall, eight feet long and four feet wide. A false floor hides the electric motor.
There are none on display like it in the state of Kentucky, said Yeary. With its brass and bronze gears, Queen Anne legs, wooden weight box, mahogany pendulum, and original mahogany hands, it’s a beautiful piece of machinery, said Yeary. “We are fortunate to have all of the pieces.”
It is thought the clock was originally assembled on site and placed in the tower piece by piece because of its weight and size. The glass in each of the clock tower’s four faces is believed to be original. Such tower clocks were once placed in churches, courthouses, city halls and schools.
Yeary said the tower clock’s bronze bell is very rare, weighing 700-900 pounds. Manufactured by the William Kaye Bell Foundry of Louisville, it has maintained the original mechanically operated clapper.
Yeary said that the Leadership class was eligible for some historical grants, but chose not to pursue them. No tax money from the people was asked for, said Yeary.

• For more information, contact Dennis Yeary at (502) 845-2764. David Neal can be contacted at (606) 346-2049, (606) 669-3042 online at: www.towerclockrepair.com.

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