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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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TOWN CLOCK

From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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TOWN CLOCK. A prominent landmark of Dubuque since 1864 when a campaign for subscriptions for its purchase was successfully led by Dubuque physician and surgeon, Asa HORR. Mr. and Mrs. George Wood gave the city a perpetual lease to Lot 54, the site of the John Bell and Company store, a building they owned on the west side of Main Street between Eighth and Ninth STREETS.

The cost of the clock and mounting it on the building ran up to $2,000. Wood erected the tower for $1,000. The clock, said at the time to be the most accurate town clock in the United States, began operating in November 1864. The question of who owned the clock was settled on December 11, 1865, when everyone who had subscribed $25.00 or more became a member of the Dubuque Town Clock Company.

About five o'clock on the afternoon of May 25, 1872, workmen nearby noticed cracks appearing in the walls of the Town Clock building. Shouting an alarm, they rushed for cover as the belfry swayed before crashing to the ground. The gong of the clock weighed one ton, the bell weighed half a ton, and the clock face, hands, and mechanism another four hundred pounds. A child and two women inside the building were killed as the falling clock demolished the store. An investigation placed the blame for the disaster on nearby excavation. It also stated that the foundation of the Bell Building was insufficient to hold the clock's weight. Architect Fridolin J. HEER, Sr., drew plans for a new building, and on Apri1 17, 1873, a new clock and bell costing $5,309.45 graced the downtown area.

The new clock, accurate to within two seconds each week, was operated with weights wound by cranks, which ran through a shaft into the basement of the building. Two boys spent an hour and a half winding the weights sufficiently to operate the clock mechanism for one week. In 1923 the financial cost of repairing the tower led the city council to decide to have the clock removed. This action was rescinded when a poll conducted by the Times Journal found that the citizens wanted the clock maintained. In 1927 a new Seth Thomas mechanism was added. The clock was electrified by INTERSTATE POWER COMPANY and synchronized by Western Union.

In 1970 the Your Town Clock Committee" was organized with the goal of relocating the Town Clock to the Town Clock Square. The city council approved the action that was carried out with $70,000 raised through voluntary contributions in fourteen months.

The thirteen-ton "tower" was brought to the site Friday, February 12, 1971, where it was bolted to the four-column concrete pedestal. The four "faces" of the clock, weighing nine tons, were put into place on February 16 followed by the cupola weighing seven tons. The completely assembled clock stands about two feet taller than it did at its former location at 825 Main Street when it stood 108 feet above street level on a three-story building.

The TOWN CLOCK PLAZA, with its Town Clock, was formally dedicated on Friday, August 3, 1971, by Dubuque MAYOR Dr. Gaylord COUCHMAN and George W. Romney, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Concern about VIBRATIONS caused by loud music and hundreds of dancers led to a feature story in the TELEGRAPH HERALD in 1989. City officials stated their confidence in the structural soundness of the tower. The Durrant Architects of Dubuque designed the pre-cast four-column pedestal that supports the clock since its relocation.