Bell tower rings for 90th year


The Leader-Herald

GLOVERSVILLE – Generations of city residents have been hearing the chimes from the bell tower of the First Congregational United Church of Christ on East Fulton Street for 90 years.

The Seth Thomas tower clock, completed on Oct. 18, 1923, has ticked through World War II, the Great Depression and while man took his first steps on the moon.

The efforts to preserve the rich history of the old tower and the instruments within it were carried out most recently by Tony and Louis Castiglione before they passed on the duties to the present caretaker, Jeremy Spraggs.

The bells, cast in 1923 by the Meneely Bell Co. in Troy, are made of bronze. They can be heard nearly two miles away if the wind is blowing and activity in the city is quiet, Spraggs said.

“I can often take my garbage out late at night and hear the bell from my home over near Steele Avenue Extension,” Spraggs said.

Spraggs said the largest of the 10 bells weighs roughly 2,000 pounds and is close to 4 feet in diameter. The bells in the tower together weigh nearly 7,000 pounds.

The chimes can be triggered by the clock in the bell tower or can be played manually from the chime stand, which consists of several levers.

The Seth Thomas tower clock is a weight-driven clock with a 7-foot pendulum and a bob that provides the force to drive the classic mechanism.

The weight-driven tower clock has been steadily ticking ever since Hiram Darling, a member of the church, had it installed in memory of his wife, Estella Fraker Darling. The dedication can be seen on the back side of the bell tower and on the bells themselves.

Spraggs said the clock presently runs within 10 seconds of the “correct time.” Over the years, it has been adjusted by adding or taking away pennies on the pendulum. He explained that adding one penny will increase the speed of the clock by 1.6 seconds.

The price of a few pennies is well worth the investment to keep the clock ticking accurately, considering the mechanics of the clock actually were developed 200 years before the clock was built for the church, Spraggs said.

The tower, which stands at 150 feet and is divided into six levels.

The structure of the church previously built around the clock has been changed and removed while the mechanics of the antique clock remain intact.

According to information from the church, in the early 1960s, when the church was reconstructed, engineers confirmed the tower could stand free of the south and west walls of the sanctuary, which allowed the tower and chime to be preserved.

According to Spraggs, the majority of this country’s tower bells were created in Troy and Watervliet, but that business had ended by the early 1950s. Spraggs said metal shortages during and after World War II and the use of modern electronic chimes contributed to the demise of the bell-making business in the Troy area.

Over the years, the First Congregational United Church of Christ’s clock has had no major mechanical problems because of the care provided by the Castigliones and Spraggs, Spraggs said.

He said he believes the clock is in good-enough condition to make it another 90 years.

“Jeremy takes care of it like a child of his own,” said the Rev. Ralph English, the church’s pastor.

In an age where just about every electronic device displays the time, Spraggs said the need for public clocks has diminished, but he says the bell tower is a relevant piece of history.

“Just the fact that it’s still here and working on the hour is remarkable,” Spraggs said. “Hundreds of these things were made, but there just isn’t that many still working. You think back to around the ’20s, people might have had one mechanical clock at home, but they still needed the radio or these public clocks to know that the time they had was right or when to set it back.”

He said his love for old mechanical things has transformed into an obsession with clocks and the mechanics of what makes it tick.

“I just love being here,” Spraggs said. “After my previous job, I would often come here and relax after I got out of work. Just to sit here and hear the ticking is peaceful to me.”