By Steve Jusseaume, Hampton Union Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2000
"But where's the town clock?"
An investigation into the location of the massive clock given to the town of Hampton more than 100 years ago has turned up parts of it, though where other parts are located remains a mystery.
Prompted by Selectman Bonnie Searle, town officials began making inquiries last month as to the whereabouts of the clock that graced the tower of the Odd Fellows Hall on Lafayette Road like a beacon for most of the 20th Century.
Three surviving clock faces have been located at the Department of Public Works Department, though no one seems to know where the clock works are.
Given to the town by John Brown in 1897, the clock became a local landmark when contractor Orrin Stevens heightened the tower at the Odd Fellows Hall to house the clock and bell.
There it remained until the Hall burned to the ground 10 years ago. After the fire, according to some, the three surviving faces and the clock works were stored in the old blacksmith shop on Barbour Road for several years until the shop was cleaned out.
"When cleaning out the blacksmith shop some years back the clock faces were moved to the Public Works and Glenn French and I moved the timing mechanism to the Chamber of Commerce office which was located north of town on Lafayette Road at that time, the thought being to restore it for setup and use somewhere in town. It didn't pan out and as far as I know the mechanism stayed at the C of C office," wrote Ansell Palmer to selectmen last month.
He added that the clock works were badly damaged by the fire, suffering cracked bearing plates, and gearing shafts bent by the heat. "The other parts used for driving the three sets of clock hands ... were all considered scrap metal and not saved after the fire," Palmer added.
Bob Ross, who worked at the DPW when the Odd Fellows Hall was destroyed, recalled the fire and the subsequent efforts to save the clock.
"It was a spectacular fire," Ross said this week.
"There was snow on the ground, I was out with a sanding crew when the alarm came in. We reached the scene and never got home that night." Ross remembers bringing in a crane to salvage the clock, bell and works. We got in there and lifted it off, got it into a dump truck. I only remember taking the faces and the bell. I don't remember the mechanism, though I thought it went to the Chamber of Commerce. I wouldn't swear to that though." Glen French was the head of the Chamber when the fire occurred.
Last year he resigned and "Doc" Noel took over as president.
Noel said several weeks ago that he spoke with French recently and French said he didn't have the clock works.
Hampton Town Manager James Barrington said Friday he has called French several times, but French has not returned messages left on his cell phone. Reportedly, French owns property in Exeter and currently works for a hotel chain, and has been out of town.
Meanwhile, Searle said several weeks ago that she suspects where the mechanism might be, though she declined to elaborate. "I have had someone tell me where it might be," Searle said at a selectmen's meeting last month.
"Can you share that information with Mr. Barrington?" Ginny Bridle asked.
"I'm not sure it would do any good," Searle responded.
While the works are unaccounted for, three scorched wooden faces and the bell are currently being stored in a back barn at the DPW. The three faces show signs of the fire, one of the 6-foot diameter faces seemingly extremely fragile. The bell sits nearby. It reads: "McShane Bell Foundry/Baltimore Md./1897" The three-foot high brass bell is in excellent condition, and the faces, while in bad shape, appear to have not suffered any further damage during their stay at the DPW.
And the search for the works goes on. Efforts to reach French have been unsuccessful. Ross speculated that the mechanism might be stored in a barn French reportedly owns in Exeter, but has been unable to contact French since his conversation with him earlier this fall. (He's become) "the man who fell off the earth," Ross said.
Barrington's efforts to contact French have also been in vain, but he warned that whoever might have the clock works could find himself in trouble with the law.
"Anyone who might have possession of the inner workings of the clock could be prosecuted for theft by unauthorized taking," Barrington said Friday. "And anyone who knows the whereabouts of the mechanism and isn't talking could be charged as accessories."