×

Northampton arborist, colleagues revive 143-year-old Holyoke City Hall clock

  • On the wall in the movement room of the clock tower at Holyoke City Hall, men who worked on the clock signed their names, like this example from 1898. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dave Cotton, of Northampton, talks about the clock movement in Holyoke City Hall, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dave Cotton, of Northampton, talks about the clock movement in Holyoke City Hall, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dave Cotton, left, of Northampton, and John Nelson, of Amherst, talk about the Holyoke City Hall clock movement, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • John Nelson, of Amherst, talks about the Holyoke City Hall clock movement, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • One of four clock dials in the motion room of the clock tower at Holyoke City Hall, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • One of four clock dials in the motion room of the clock tower at Holyoke City Hall, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dave Cotton, second from left, and Davis Goddard, of Westhampton, back, talk about the Holyoke City Hall clock in the motion room, Monday, July 2, 2018. One of four clock dials can be seen in the background. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Transmission for one of four clock dials in Holyoke City Hall, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The bell in the belfry of the clock tower at Holyoke City Hall, Monday, July 2, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The bell in the belfry of the clock tower at Holyoke City Hall, seen Monday, will not be chiming when the clock starts up again. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@ecutts_HG
Tuesday, July 03, 2018

HOLYOKE — For the last month, while city residents relaxed after work, slept and enjoyed their weekends, Dave Cotton of Northampton quietly worked 200 feet above them to restore a piece of their city’s history.

The clock on Holyoke City Hall’s tower has been out of time for more than three decades, but in a day that is all about to change, thanks to the efforts of Cotton and others, including at least one Holyoke resident who took a week of vacation to help the work.

“We have tremendous resources in this area and the willingness of people to volunteer and contribute their time and expertise to a project like this just shows that there is still a lot of personal commitment to benefiting society and to the heritage that we have gotten from our ancestors,” said Cotton, who runs Cotton Tree Service in Northampton.

Cotton first learned of the clock while working on a project for the city of Holyoke. He said that as he was finishing work on McNulty Park and was talking to the city’s conservation director, Andrew Smith, Cotton noticed the non-working clock.

“I said, ‘Andrew, that is a beautiful building, but the clock is not reading the right time. What’s up with the clock?’” Cotton recalled.

That led to a tour of the clock tower and a conversation with Mayor Alex Morse which, after some back-and-forth, ended with Cotton agreeing to donate his time to get the 143-year-old Seth Thomas clock back in ticking order. After the maintenance and repairs are complete, Cotton said, he expects it to continue on for another 143 years.

The clock is expected to be lit up and running on time for midnight on July 4. The city plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the near future.

The clock’s working parts are divided across four levels. Above the second floor of City Hall, below the tower proper, is a pendulum room that used to house the weights needed to keep the pendulum moving.

Above that is the movement room, which houses the main mechanism to keep the clock ticking and the bell chiming on the hour — although the bell isn’t active anymore, so the newly functioning clock won’t be chiming.

It’s where the pendulum and weight shaft that keep the gravity clock running are installed and where those who have worked on the clock before Cotton have signed their names.

Above the movement room is the belfry, where the 4,000-pound bronze bell, made by Troy (N.Y.) Foundry, is kept. One more flight up is the so-called transmission room where the clock faces or dials are mounted.

Cotton’s experience as an arborist and steeplejack have given him the essential rigging techniques he will need to climb the tower in the future and clean the clock faces.

Regionwide support

While working on the clock, Cotton made connections with fellow Hampshire County residents passionate about clocks like John Nelson.

Trained as a professor of English, Nelson began repairing clocks while he was a graduate student to earn money. He continued his passion when he moved to Amherst as word of his clock-repairing abilities spread.

Nelson was also called to repair the clock in the tower at the First Congregational Church in Hadley.

“It has a beautiful face with gold hands and, if I may say, it’s always right on time,” Nelson said of the clock. “That was the start of a long relationship with that clock and people in that church.”

Nelson has also helped take care of the clock at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he currently holds the title of professor emeritus of English and is the founder of the program for professional writing and technical communication. Nelson’s grandfather was a machinist and toolmaker for the Waltham Watch Co.

He describes Holyoke’s clock as the “Cadillac of clocks.” Each side of the tower has a clock face that is lighted during the night.

“It is so beautifully done,” Cotton said. “It is extraordinary.”

Also offering his more than 40 years of clock experience was Westhampton resident Davis Goddard. A retired engineer, Goddard said he bought an old clock in 1970.

“Once you buy an old clock, you have to find out who made it, where did he make it, how does it work. It begets a lot of other questions,” he said. “From there you can either build a library or get tools of the trade.”

A client of Cotton Tree Services, Goddard learned about the project from Cotton when he went to buy some mulch and, after asking a few questions about the project, found himself as a technical adviser of sorts.

In addition to Nelson and Goddard donating their time and expertise, Cotton has gotten help from Hatfield’s Rudison & Routhier Engineering Co., which through a donation machined and manufactured all the replacement components, and Holyoke’s Sullivan Metals, which donated two new drive shafts to keep two of the clock faces working.

Hampden Zimmerman Electric Supply also supplied the electrical components for back lighting of the clock dials.

For everything that hasn’t been donated, Cotton said he’s spent his own money to complete the project and has worked seven days a week for the last month — something he said he loves.

“Having a broken clock isn’t the best thing in the world,” Cotton said, “It’s such an amazing installation in such a magnificent building, I think it would make a difference.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.