Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rattlesnake Master

Photographed 28 July 2013, Cinder Path prairie remnant north of Humeston, Iowa.

Eryngium yuccifolium. This distinctive member of the carrot family is native to Lucas County's moist to slightly dry black dirt prairies. It can be grown with few issues and thrives in re-established prairies, but rarely establishes itself unassisted in disturbed ground. So finding it in the wild signals that the ground around it has not been disturbed. Rattlesnake Master is found in most if not all of Lucas County's prairie remnants.

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.

Plant grows 2-5 feet tall, preferring full sun, as a stout central stem unbranched except near long-stalked inflorescence. Long strap-like leaves near the base of plants resemble those of yucca. Prickley balls of five-petaled tiny white flowers, each surrounded by a bract, develop mid- to late summer, generally a half to an inch across, and remain attractive in dried condition into winter.

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of  Derby, Iowa.

The name Rattlesnake Master apparently results from mistaken EuroAmerican pioneer belief that Native Americans used the plant's root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. Although the root was used medicinally, it has no effect on rattlesnake venom.

Photographed 28 July 2013, Cinder Path prairie remnant north of Humeston, Iowa.

Attention to detail at the Lucas County Courthouse

As it happens, I love the Lucas County Courthouse and always have --- although my earliest memories of it involve being led by my dad down the ground floor hallway to the men's restroom through a gauntlet of old men sitting in big chairs gossiping and spitting tobacco into strategically placed spittoons. I don't recall anything about the restroom, but I do remember the spittoons.

I'm fairly sure that most of us who live here really don't look at this wonderful old building's interior detail and appreciate just how special it is. So I took a closer look Monday afternoon.

Although exterior doors into both north and south lobbies now are glass, identical sets of swinging paneled oak doors have provided access to the interior of the building since 1894, opening to the bottom of the first flights of stairs from both directions.
OK, so is a little shabby here and there now and I'm not a big fan of the lowered ceilings, profusion of plastic paneling and huge air conditioning ducts --- all that were available years ago when it was decided to cool courthouse workers down during the summer months.

Both north and south lobbies are large, but not large enough to provide back-up room if you'd like to take photos of the interior doors and the fanlights above them together.
But how could you not love the worn woodwork of the soaring old staircases --- smoothed by 120 years of hands sliding along their rails, then grabbing elaborately turned support posts when shifting direction on a landing?

But you can always climb to the top of the first flight of stairs, turn around and look back.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the elevator --- lobby tucked discreetly off to the side just inside the south doors --- when a trip to the county treasurer's office on the top floor is required. But the grand processional route (top) from north entrance up three flights to the courtroom floor remains the way to go.


I found this article, published in The Chariton Herald on March 1, 1894, while doing some courthouse clock research earlier this year. Although the courthouse was not dedicated until May of that year, the supervisors had informally accepted the building during late February and county offices had moved in from scattered locations around the square where they'd been located since the 1858 brick courthouse was condemned, then torn down.

The processional route to the top floor continues in two flights from the first-floor hallway. Glassed windows into an office on the landing now are blocked by plastic paneling upon which someone has posted truly ugly warning signs of some sort. The effect is so horrifying I neglected to read them.
The references to hand-carved elements of the woodwork caused me take a closer look on Monday.

Just look at the turned spindles, carved finials and gorgeous paneling.
And I did not make it into the courtroom. I believe court had been and perhaps may still have been in session. So I'll go there another day. Here's the article:


"Lucas county's new fifty thousand dollar courthouse is practically completed. There are a few minor details to arrange yet in the fitting of furniture, and finishing of basement, but this will all be completed in two or three weeks.

Here's a close-up of one of the carved staircase finials. These come in two sizes, depending up where along the eight flights of stairs they are located.
"The board of supervisors met in committee last Saturday morning, and finding the contract complied with, informally accepted the building, and the several county officials moved into their new home the first of the week.

heavy turned posts support the top level of the courthouse staircase, ideally positioned to be grabbed for support by anyone switching direction on the landing between first and second floors. Obviously thousands of hands have done just that. (Courthouse woodwork never has been painted; anyone who might think of refinishing it to make it look new and shiny would have to be strung up and thrown out a window --- just like Hiram Wilson.)
"When viewing the structure from the ouside, one is impressed with the imposing and massive appearance of the exterior, and on intering is delighted with the beauty of the interior. Everything seems in such perfect harmony. The first impression is in no way changed. One feels that from the smallest particular to the completion of the whole there has been a careful supervision.

Here's a closer look at the wainscoting that lines the first-floor hallway --- this just out side the supervisors' room at the west end.
"Messrs Foster and Libbe of Des Moines were the architects. The general appearance of the building reflects great credit upon these gentlemen. There has not been a serious accident during the construction of the building. The labor has been done by home workmen except the stone work of the superstructure and the slating.

And a closer look, too, at one of the carved elements of the wainscoting.
"The contract was taken by the firm of Stewart & Eikenberry for $50,000, and not a cent has been charged for extras, and not a cent discounted for failure to fill the specifications as covered by the contract, while in fact many additions have been made that have bettered the work. As an illustration, we would especially call attention to the ornaments used for decorating the interior wood-work, which, according to the specifications, were to have been pressed wood, but hand carved ornaments have been substituted. Mr. G.J. Stewart has given his personal attention to the work from first to last, and to his well known executive ability and untiring energy is largely due the completeness of finish and general excellence of work which characterize the edifice. At the risk of financial loss, he has never failed to furnish the best possible material; also to make the building solid and urable from foundation to roof.

The floors of the courthouse foyers, ground and first-floor hallways are wonderfully tiled. Here, on the ground floor, three patterns of tiling come together.
"The work began in the fall of 1892, under the supervision of Mr. D.A. Enslow, who put in the foundation and brick work. Mr. Enslow is an experienced and practical workman, and in no place did his mechanical skill count for more than here, and long after the builders shall have been forgotten, the foundation of the Lucas county court house will stand as a monument to his skill.

A closer view of some of the ground-floor tile work.
"Mr. Wm. Connor of Council Bluffs superintended the stonework of the superstructure, and the plans of the architect were carefully followed as the massive and elegant appearance of the building will attest.

"Messrs. E.H. Best and C.W. Johnson had the supervision of the wood work. These gentlemen, with the assistance of other carpenters in Chariton have exhibited their skills as mechancs and demonstrated the fact that Chariton can boast of as expert workers in wood as any city of its size.

"The heating apparatus was furnished by Thomas Caton of Ottumwa, and the furniture which is in keeping with the rest of the building by Messrs. Harback & Co. of Des Moines.

"The house is brilliantly lighted throughout  by electric lights.

Here's one of the original courthouse chairs outside the county recorder's office. Sadly, earlier county supervisors house-cleaned at one point and sold several of these off.
"On Tuesday when the Herald scribe entered the massive structure from the south entrance, by the grand staircase leading to the floor on which the offices are located, mingled feelings of pride and admiration stole over him, as he thought, have not the tax payers of Lucas county just cause to be proud of their new court house? Everything looking to the public comfort, convenient arrangement of offices for our faithful public servants, and above all absolute safety of public records, vounchers, etc., has been provided.

Back on the ground floor, isn't this a wonderful door? It leads to a storage area under the stairs!
"As one stands within the main hall way in the center of the building and views the general construction and symmetrical effect wrought by the various artisans, he can but feel that every dollar has been judiciously expended. We found the officials all at their post, proud as a boy in his first pair of pants, and busy with the current business of their office and the attendant work of straightening around after moving, but each found time to exchange friendly greeting and congratulations.

And finally, here's an area at the base of the north stair where plaster has fallen away, exposing the fact interior wals of the courthouse are solid brick.
"We rejoice that we live in so rich and grand a county as Lucas, and when the roads become passable, hope to greet every farmer and citizen of the county, with the wife and babies, at the county seat to help dedicate the building of which we are all justly proud. It will be a gala day for Lucas county then. Let's arrange to be there.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wild White Indigo

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.

Baptisia alba macrophylla. This member of the bean family, native to Lucas County's moist to dry black soil prairies, usually is found in undisturbed or less disturbed habitats. Because of its deep roots it can sometimes be found after its prairie associates have been destroyed. It ranges widely north and west to southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa, but is uncommon.

Stalks 3-6 feet tall form sparsely branched bushes, Showy flower stalks bearing pea-like blossoms can be up to 2 feet long. Oblong seed pods then form. Blooms late spring to mid-summer.

Photographed 17 July 2104, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.
Photographed 21 June 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa

Bad road stories from English Township

This is another of those items from the "blog stuff" file, set aside because I found it interesting but not because anything of major significance was involved. I'm a little short of time this morning, therefore ....

It's always fun, browsing old newspapers, to happen upon reports involving your own family --- not so much the big stuff, births, marriages, deaths and the like. I already know that sort of thing. But details that shed a little light on personalities and how people lived in the distant, or not-so-distant, past.

Anyhow, this brief report, from The Chariton Leader of May 15, 1919, involves my grandfather, William Ambrose Miller (left). That's the Miller family home (as it looked many years later when occupied by my aunt and uncle) in English Township above.

That house fronted then --- and now --- on the road east out of Williamson (just before Williamson Pond) that I've always thought of as one of the worst roads in Lucas County, when weather conditions were right. Most of the year it was fine, then in the spring or during a particularly wet season the bottom would go out and parts of it would become virtually impassable.

So it was interesting to read in this article that mud had a long history of bogging motorists down in that neighborhood. The author of the piece was Henry Gittinger, then-editor of The Leader.

"W.A. Miller, out at the (west) edge of English township, has a fortune with his grasp if he would only work it. Perhaps if he had a gold lead on his place, or even a mineral spring with extraordinary medicinal qualities, he would aim to reap the havest due him, but in this case he is merely winking at opportunity when he might become opulent with wealth rung from condition. On account of some late fall road work, in front of his premises there is the worst mud hole between Chariton and Knoxville --- and the season for mud has been long. Not only every day but several times each day somebody drops into that hole and gets stuck --- next to lost. It is even more treacherous than the Dismal Swamp. Frequently he is called on to rescue automobiles from the mire, and receives eternal thanks when he could as well as not levy heavy tribute to receive. The opportunity is worth erecting steam derricks and doing rescue work upon a business basis. Our friend Miller has turned down a fortune and might have endowed several libraries and been able to corner the rescue business of Lucas county ere this."

One of my favorite memories of this road, dating from the 1950s when I was pretty young, involves the house that got stuck in about the same spot.

My granddad's uncle, Harry Miller, had retired sometime during the late teens and moved to town --- in this case Williamson, then a coal mining and railroad boom town. He and Aunt Carrie had built a fine new bungalow with big porches --- one of the nicer homes in town actually.

By the 1950s, Williamson had begun to decline and someone (I used to know who, but have forgotten) bought the house and decided to move it some miles to the northeast, where it still sits (minus most of its porches) along Highway 14 just before the highway straightens out and heads north to Belinda and Columbia.

The decision was made to move the house late in the week and somehow it got stuck just east of the entrance to Granddad's driveway, canted partially into the north ditch with just enough room to the south for a car to squeeze by. It was still there on Sunday, when there was a family dinner --- and those of us who were kids had a great time climbing aboard (when adults weren't looking) and exploring.

In 1919, the road east out of Williamson was part of the main road linking Chariton and Knoxville. The angled current route of Highway 14 that bypasses Williamson to the north, crosses English Creek and  comes up south of Belinda, wasn't graded and put into service until several years later.

Those also were the days when newspaper editors frequently left their offices and walked, rode or drove around looking for something to write about. This apparently was what Henry Gittinger was up to during early May, 1919.

His next stop was the next place east of Granddad's, an older family home where my Great-uncle Jerry Miller lived with his mother, Mary Elizabeth. Uncle Jerry had returned home just weeks earlier from service during World War I and Henry visited with him about that. I posted that short piece here several years ago as "Uncle Jerry and the Great War." Although brief, its an interesting account.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A little pipe organ genealogy

The 1973 Tellers organ at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke reportedly incorporates pipework from the 1926 Pilcher, given as a memorial to Annie Mallory and Jessie (Mallory) Thayer O'Neal.

Jessie (Mallory) Thayer O'Neal
I have this file labeled "blog stuff" full of short items that intrigued me as I browsed old newspapers looking for something else. Since it's Sunday morning and I have a soft spot for pipe organs, I'm going to expand a little on an article in The Herald Patriot of March 12, 1925, headed "Presented a Pipe Organ: It is Being Erected as a Mallory Memorial."

Unfortunately for Chariton, the new organ was being erected in Orlando, Florida --- and it's useful to know the back story in order to understand why.

Smith H. and Annie Mallory and their daughter, Jessie, probably were Chariton's "first family" from about 1867, when they arrived, until 1907, when financial disaster struck. Smith H., railroad contractor, banker and entrepreneur, certainly was the region's richest man. The family home, Ilion, was legendary. They seem to have been gracious and generous people, not only admired but actually liked by most Lucas Countyans.

Smith Mallory died in 1903 and disaster struck in 1907 when a trusted family associate, Frank Crocker, misappropriated funds and bankrupted the Mallory bank, First National, a huge financial disaster for Chariton and many who lived elsewhere in the county. Although the Mallory women, Annie and Jessie, had done nothing wrong, they were held financially liable because they were principal shareholders of the bank and its top (if only in title) officers.

Between 1907 and 1909, Jessie (Mallory) Thayer battled First National's federal receivers to avoid financial liability and keep the family fortune as intact as possible. She lost in 1909 and all Mallory assets in Lucas County were turned over to the receiver --- along with additional cash. 

Jessie did, however, shield her personal assets and she was a wealthy women in her own right --- many family assets had been given to her before and after her father's death and she was a good businessperson. But her efforts to avoid financial responsibility for the bank collapse had caused a good deal of bitterness and after the 1909 settlement, Jessie and Annie settled permanently in Orlando, Florida, in a Queen Anne-style home that remains a landmark in that city. Contents of the Ilion were packed up professionally, loaded aboard a rail car and shipped there.

In Chariton, the Mallorys had been prime movers in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church; in Orlando, they became active communicants of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke. Jessie married businessman, socialite and local historian William R. O'Neal as her second husband during 1914, but less than 10 years later, during 1923, both Mallory women died --- Annie at age 81 and Jessie at age 60. Her husband was a principal heir along with members of the extended Mallory family, most notably Albert D. "Bert" Mallory, an uncle not much older than she who had always been a best friend and adviser.

Commencing in 1922, Orlando St. Luke's began to replace its older building with a far grander stone structure more suited to serve as a cathedral. William R. O'Neal and Bert Mallory decided that a new organ for the cathedral would be a suitable joint memorial for Jessie and her mother, as reported in The Herald Patriot cited here initially:

"A recent issue of the Orlando, Florida, Reporter-Star gives an account of the presentation of a fine pipe organ to St. Luke's Episcopal church of that city by Messrs. W.R. O'Neal and A.D. Mallory, as a memorial to Mrs. Smith H. Mallory and Mrs. Jessie Thayer-O'Neal, who were devoted members of that church. The latter while she lived at Orlando spent much time and expense in providing the best music possible for the church, but the account says the means were much more limited than now. So it was a fitting tribute to the memory of these two devoted women. The account reviews the effort of the late Smith H. Mallory and the aforementioned ladies in the work of St. Andrews at Chariton, Iowa, reciting the installation of the pipe organ here and Mr. Mallory's successful efforts in getting the splendid stone church erected. It is said the new organ in St. Lukes will be one of the largest in the south. And all this calls to memory the range of past years and the pathetic changes that have taken place since those who are now commemorated were esteemed members of our Chariton society."

This postcard view shows the organ installed at St. Andrew's in Chariton after its completion in 1903. Unfortunately, that fine building was not built well, was judged structurally unsound during 1955 and demolished --- the organ with it.

The organ installed at St. Luke's was built as Opus 1270 by Henry Pilcher's Sons, of Lousville, Kentucky. Although no precise description is available, it cost $14,900, a substantial chunk of change.

That organ served the cathedral until 1971, when a major remodeling project began. As part of that project, a new 88-rank instrument built by the Tellers Organ Co. was installed in a newly constructed loft over the cathedral narthex. That instrument, updated in 1999, continues to serve the cathedral and, according to conventional wisdom, incorporates pipework from the 1926 Pilcher. I'm guessing, however, that the Mallory link was lost track of in the transition.

Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Culver's Root

Photographed 2 August 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant between Humeston and Derby, Iowa.

Veronicastrum virginicum. Native to Lucas County black dirt prairies ranging from moist to mesic and some open woodland areas. Unbranched stalks 2-4 feet in height with whorls of toothed leaves at each node, tiny white tubular flowers in spikes, usually several atop each stalk creating a candelabra-like effect. Blooms early July to early August.

Perhaps named for a Dr. Culver who utilized its bitter roots, widely recognized for their medicinal value, in treating liver disorders and constipation (do not try this yourself!). Only occasionally seen; does not grow as a rule in  disturbed areas.

Photographed 2 August 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant between Humeston and Derby, Iowa.

Stalking tallgrass prairie wildflowers

One of the problems with this blog, now in its 9th year, is that it's a lot like the house --- such a mess I never can find anything. I just checked: There are 2,203 posts here. No wonder. (There have been more, but now and then I kill off a few that no longer seem relevant or are really annoying.)

At least here there's a search engine, which helps; and would at home, too, if such a thing were available. 

A tiny fraction of the posts I've thought most interesting are indexed in the right sidebar, but not with any particular logic. One of my new year resolutions is to work on that. We'll see.

What I have started to do lately is round up photographs I've taken of various tallgrass prairie and woodland wildflowers over the last several years, pick a decent one or two, write a brief description (including where it was found), then post as an independent entry. If you follow the blog, you'll have been seeing these.

The next step is to index them as a category way down toward the bottom of the sidebar. 

This is mostly for my own benefit. I'm always out there in season tramping around and looking down, camera in hand, stalking wildflowers. 

When I find a new one, I take photos and then (if I don't already know) come home and try to figure out what it is. My favorite resource is represented by the inset book cover --- The Nature Conservancy's "Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers: A Falcon Field Guide." Thank you, M.E.M.

"Field guide" suggests you're supposed to carry it with you. I don't. It's a beautiful book --- and I don't want to get it dirty. Besides, it's a little bulky.

The system usually works, I post the photo as part of a blog entry --- then forget the name of the plant if it's a little obscure. That happened yesterday with Culver's Root, at the top here this morning. I found it last July in that spectacular Cinder Path prairie remnant just north of the propane tank between Humeston and Derby; identified it; posted it; then forgot what it was called.

Since I couldn't remember the name I couldn't use the search engine to look it up and had to start from scratch --- even "Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers" failed me a little because the photo there was not especially useful.

Culver's Root is so-called, supposedly, after a pioneer physician or medicine man --- the root has long been thought to have medicinal value. And while it ranges widely, it doesn't care for soil that's been disturbed, so finding it is an accomplishment and it serves as a marker for undisturbed environment.

Later on today, I'll do an entry for it, post it --- and have a handy reference next time around.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Slender (or Narrowleaf) Mountain Mint

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium. No mountains in sight, but native to Lucas County and other southern Iowa upland black dirt prairies; rare farther north. Grows 1-3 feet tall with short narrow leaves and frequent branching. profuse clusters of small tubular white flowers appear mid- to late July.

Plants, when crushed fresh or dried, have a strong, pleasant minty scent.

Moving on up (soon) --- above Piper's

Albia, led by the vision of the late Robert Bates, pioneered the concept of town square restoration and revitalization in the south of Iowa --- back in the late 1950s and 1960s. He and others who developed stylish apartments in underutilized spaces on the upper levels of downtown commercial buildings called themselves cliff-dwellers.

Now 50 years later, the number of Chariton cliff-dwellers is increasing, too, with the recently restored Charitone and a 10-unit upper-level housing initiative supplementing the number of apartments already available "upstairs." Those 10 new apartments are scheduled to open to tenants this spring. 

This is the room in the new apartments above Piper's, now nearing completion, that always engages my imagination --- huge double windows looking out south over the square; tall single windows looking east across North Grand Street toward the Charitone.

I took a trip upstairs on Wednesday and spent a little time getting in the way of workers, now focused on finishing the two Piper's apartments so that they'll be ready for tenants. 

Southeast across the North Grand/Braden Avenue intersection, Betty Hanson already has rented one of the new apartments in her Iowa Realty building and the remaining three apartments are nearing completion, too.

At both Piper's and at the Iowa Realty building, a final step will be to pull the vintage iron exterior staircases that provide access to both of Jill's apartments and two of Betty's, transport them to Johnson Machine Works for restoration and modification, then reinstall them.

The four new apartments in the Demichelis building, west at the intersection of Braden and North Main, now are scheduled to be the last completed and ready for occpancy. The stairs there are internal. All 10 apartments are part of Chariton's upper-level housing initiative, funded by federal grants and owner matches.

Upstairs at Piper's the floors all have been refinished and turned out beautifully, woodwork has been repainted or refinished and the walls have their initial coats of paint, too. All the infrastructure is in place --- so that final coat of paint, followed by installation of appliances (refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers and dishwashers) will be other final steps.

Currently, a mountain of boxed appliances occupies much of the kitchen-dining room of Jill's south apartment (visible here thorugh the door), so I didn't take any photos, but here's the bedroom, looking south over the square through double windows, too, and opening into the living room to the left.

This apartment probably would be best suited for a single person --- the rooms are wonderful, but there are only three of them, plus bath.

This is the entrance hall, showing the door onto the exterior stair landing that will be used by tenants and guests.

The north apartment at Piper's is huge, two big bedrooms flanking at the north and south ends a bigger kitchen-dining room and a spacious living room joined by doubled doors. There are two bathrooms.

Entry is into the kitchen-dining room, looking through north here into the living room. 

And here's the view from the living room south through refinished doubled doors into the kitchen-dining room and, beyond, into the south bedroom.

Once in the south bedroom (above), turn around and you can get an idea of the size of the apartment as you look north through kitchen-dining room and living room into the north bedroom.

I'll be back when the apartments are done. Don't be surprised when the exterior staircases on this corner of the square vanish briefly --- they'll be back, too.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Starry Campion

Photographed 19 July 2014, Medora Prairie near Medora, Iowa.
Silene stellata. A lovely but somewhat elusive native of various Lucas County habitats including woodlands, savannas, meadows near wooded areas and upland prairies --- so long as they can offer its preferred light shade or partial sun as well as mesic to dry conditions.

Plants grow 1-2 and 1/2 feet tall, erect and unbranched or branched sparingly. Deeply fringed flowers occur individually or in groups of 2-3 on tips of short lateral stems.

Photographed 19 July 2014 at Medora Prairie near Medora, Iowa.

White Prairie Clover

Photographed 17 July 2014, prairie remnant along the Cinder Path east of Derby, Iowa.

Dalea candida. Native to Lucas County's upland prairies, although rarer than its sister, Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea); grows 1 to 2 1/2 feet tall, unbranched or sparsely branched in upper half; flower spike is 1-3 inches tall with small flowers that open in wreath formation around blossom cone, starting at the bottom. Blooms early to mid-summer; central taproot up to 5 feet deep.

Prefers full sun and mesic to dry condition and seems to be relatively rare in Lucas County.

The courthouse clock's "missing" pendulum, weights

You may remember that when Rory DeMesy evaluated the original mechanism of the Lucas County Courthouse clock during early January he noted that a couple of pieces were missing.

As it happens, I knew where two of those pieces were --- so descended to the lower level of the Lewis Building at the museum yesterday morning to take a look at the pendulum (left) and the weights. The weights were cranked up once a week to keep the clock running. The pendulum is the time-keeping element, tick-tock.

These were removed when the clock was electrified during 1979 and brought to the museum for safekeeping four years later, during 1983.

I've looked at these items any number of times over the years, but never really looked at them until yesterday. They're in excellent condition, but not the sort of thing you just pick up and move around. 

So I photocopied the deed of gift signed by then-supervisor Jim Wright and ran a copy up to the auditor's office just so everyone would know where they were --- just in case the supervisors might decide to restore the old clock to its original condition. (Yes, I'm sure the museum would give the missing parts back were they needed.)

Yes, "pendulem" is misspelled; this sign predates spellcheck.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tick tock and the courthouse clock

If you've seen Bill's story in Tuesday's Leader you already know that the Lucas County supervisors continue to move ahead on a project that hopefully will get the courthouse clock running to full capacity again one of these days. 

I wrote about this first during December in a post entitled Time Marches On: Mr. Mallory and his clock, so go there if you're interested in more about the history of a timepiece that celebrated its 120th birthday during 2014.

I had a chance yesterday morning at the museum office to visit a little more about the project with Steve Laing, historical society treasurer --- and county supervisor.

The supervisors had invited Rory DeMesy, of Mechanical Watch Supply LLC of Minneapolis, one of the best known restorers of vintage public timepieces in the country, to take a look at Mr. Mallory's clock and so he and the supervisors climbed into the tower on January 9 to take a look.

It's useful to know that the 1893-94 mechanical clock was electrified a good many years ago, perhaps to alleviate the need to wind it and also, perhaps, just because it seemed like a technologically savvy thing to do. Unfortunately, the electrical mechanism has not been especially durable. There used to be people in Lucas County who could get it going again when something went wrong, but they're no longer with us.

As a result, in part, the four faces of the clock no longer work in sync, keeping the same time, and the clock no longer strikes. In addition, a couple of hands have broken and there are other issues involving brickwork and framework that seem not to be critical but would have to be dealt with.

Anyhow, DeMesy examined the clock carefully and took many photographs. He declared it to be a fine piece of Seth Thomas craftsmanship --- and also told the supervisors that the original mechanical movement remains in excellent condition although a few minor (replaceable) pieces are missing. That includes a weight removed and added to the historical society collection when the clock was modified.

DeMesy told the supervisors that there basically are two options. One is to repair the electrical mechanism, a project that would keep the clock running for perhaps another 20 years.

The other, entirely possible, would be to restore the original mechanism of the clock --- a project that DeMesy estimated would put the clock in good running order --- with reasonable maintenance --- for another century. If winding is a concern, an electrical winder could be added to the original mechanism.

DeMesy will spend a few weeks evaluating the clock and preparing estimates for its repair --- not an inexpensive project. Then the supervisors will consider their options and begin the search for funding.

The services of DeMesy's firm are in demand widely, so it probably would be a year before work on the clock began once its repair was authorized.

When Smith H. Mallory presented the clock to the county on May 22, 1894, he said, "I turn it over to you, trusting that it will truly beat the time, and strike the hours to notify us when to begin our daily labors, call us from labor to refreshment, keep us company during the vigils of the night, and be like Tennyson's brook, 'Man may come and man may go, but I go on forever.' "

I'm looking forward to hearing the grand old clock mark the hours of Lucas County's days again.