By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, October 23, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
[Photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
A former selectman who is helping to restore the clock that once stood atop the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Hampton, which was destroyed by fire in 1990, said work is almost complete.
"The clock is pretty close to being put together," said Cliff Pratt, who, along with Harvey Webber, has been working on the project. "All we need is a location and a safe place to put it."
On the night of Jan. 27, 1990, the Odd Fellows block on Lafayette Road burned. Then-fire chief Skip Sullivan recalled the blaze in a 2002 article that appeared in the Hampton Union.
"There were two retail stores on the first floor and the Odd Fellows hall was upstairs. I remember we had two very cold days before and after that night, but on the night of the fire the air temperatures were warmer than usual," Sullivan said.
"The fire started in the basement; it was called in at midnight or 1 a.m. By the time we got there, it was out of control," the former Hampton chief said. "There was fire everywhere in the building. We finally got it under control by daybreak, but through the night it burned. It was so out of control we had to pull all our firefighters out of the building early on."
The blaze quickly went to five alarms. Two Hampton ladders fought the fire — one from the beach and the other from Station 2 on Winnacunnet Road, as well as other local equipment. Ladder trucks from Newburyport, Mass., and Portsmouth assisted at the scene, as well as fire apparatus from towns all along the Seacoast.
The wood-frame building, built in 1896, partially collapsed during the night, and the morning light unveiled a destroyed five-story structure, though the tower had not collapsed fully. It was on that tower that, miraculously, the massive clock — with wood faces and iron and metal workings — sat and, as a result, it was saved.
"I think it was the biggest fire ever to hit the downtown," Sullivan said.
Pratt went before selectmen this week to get their permission to allow him to form a committee to decide where the best location will be for the century old clock.
Two possible locations that have been suggested include downtown Hampton and the proposed headquarters addition to the Winnacunnet Road fire station.
"We need to select a location to decide whether the clock will be battery operated or whether it will be wound," Pratt said.
Pratt said Webber has done the majority of the work in returning the clock to its former glory.
The owner of Webber's Antiques has been working on repairing the large timepiece since 2005. Prior to that, the damaged clock parts had been collecting dust for more than a decade at the Town Hall after they were retrieved from the fire that destroyed the Lafayette Road building.
Webber, along with his father Robert, got involved in the project back in 2004, after selectmen threatened to sell the old parts, saying it would cost too much to repair the unique clock.
The father and son team offered to repair the clock at no cost to the town. "People thought it was worth all this money and it wasn't," Webber said at the time. "The value is that it's a part of Hampton's history."
The clock was originally given to the town as a gift in 1897 from John T. Brown of Newburyport, Mass. Webber said the town made a promise when it accepted the clock to keep it in good working order.
Harvey Webber said the project took on an even more special meaning for him over the years after his father died in 2005.
Pratt said the group currently has some funds available if the committee decides to construct a place to put the clock. Hampton native Ronald Bourgeault, president of Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, established the fund in order to support the project in honor of veterans and Robert Webber.
Fire Chief Chris Silver said he personally would like to see the clock become a part of the fire station project.
"I discussed it with the architect who thought it was a great idea," Silver said. "Traditionally fire stations have a tower built into them to accommodate hose hanging and drying. We believe it would be an appropriate location."
Silver has already volunteered to serve on Pratt's committee. Pratt said the committee will start meeting in January.
"I feel a certain amount of responsibility for this thing," said Pratt, on why the clock is so important to him. "My great-great-grandfather took responsibility for it back when the town first took it over."
Webber said the town made a promise when it accepted the clock to keep it in good working order [in July 1897].