HAMMONTON — After decades of temporary fixes by volunteers determined to keep the historic 1929 Seth Thomas clock near Town Hall running, a nonprofit group has pledged to renovate it.
MainStreet Hammonton, which has worked for 20 years to rehabilitate the downtown and bring in new businesses, has agreed to raise the funds needed for the project, said a spokesman, Jim Donio.
“A full restoration will cost in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Donio estimated. “We have pledges of support from the Hammonton Historical Society and the Historic Preservation Commission. No local tax dollars will be used.”
Donio said representatives of the Verdin Bells and Clocks, of Cincinnati, Ohio, told him Hammonton’s is one of the few historic clocks left in South Jersey. The closest is in front of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Donio said.
Councilman Dan Bachalis, who is heading a clock committee, said the company chosen for the job will be told to keep as many of the original parts as possible.
“It’s a sensitive issue in town,” Bachalis said. “It’s a 1920s-era clock. We’re talking about restoring parts already in there, not necessarily replacing them unless they are completely unworkable.
“People don’t want just a replica,” he said. “It won’t be the same unless we keep as much of the original as possible.”
He said the clock stopped recently because a wooden piece had rotted and fallen into the works. That had to be replaced, and was. The clock is now working again, Bachalis said, adding that the renovation includes removing several layers of paint that obscure detail in the metalwork.
Donio, who is also president of the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, said the group is hoping more community groups and local businesses will help raise funds. The goal is to finish the project before Hammonton’s 150th celebration in 2016.
The cast iron clock, which sits on the triangle where Central Avenue, Vine Street and Third Street meet, is about 16 feet tall, Donio estimated. It was originally located at the corner of Bellevue and Central avenues, at what was then the People’s Bank (now Wells Fargo).
When the bank no longer wanted the clock, the town almost lost it in the early 1960s. Fred and Ethel Noyes wanted to buy it for their Historic Towne of Smithville, Donio said. But there was an outcry from the public, and the bank gave it to the city instead. It was moved to its current location in front of Town Hall in 1965.
Some clocks, such as the one installed last year in Longport in honor of the Longport Volunteer Fire Department's 100th year of service, look historic but are reproductions.
A previous Seth Thomas clock was first installed in Hammonton 1922, but was hit by a car and destroyed sometime in the ’20s, Donio said. Then the exact model was reinstalled in 1929, he said. The famous clock at Grand Central Terminal in New York City was also made by the Seth Thomas Clock Co., which was incorporated in 1855.
The company remained independent until 1930, and since then has been purchased by various companies. Currently its inventory of goods, intellectual property and trademarks is owned by Alliance Time.
Volunteers have long maintained and repaired the clock, especially Hammonton resident Bob Hitman and optometrist Leonard Streitfeld, who has been working on it for nearly 40 years.
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