WATERTOWN — After years of silence, the bells in the clocktower of First Baptist Church at the eastern end of Public Square are finally ringing again.
The clock and bells, which are owned by the city, were historically maintained by an employee of Knowlton Technologies, but about five years ago the company terminated its agreement with the city over concerns that the tower was no longer safe to enter. The clock sat without service for years and its bells stopped ringing about three years ago.
Steven S. Massaro, a local mechanic with more than 40 years of experience, offered to donate his time and expertise to bring the clocktower back into working order.
City Council voted to allow Mr. Massaro to work on the clock, with the permission of the First Baptist Church trustees, during a council session on Sept. 8.
Mr. Massaro said when he first saw the clock shortly before the council voted to allow him to work on it, it was non-functioning.
The first major issue Mr. Massaro identified was that the linkage between the clock and its bells was missing.
“The bells are two floors above where the clock is,” he said. “When I first saw it, the linkage between the clock and the bell strikers was completely missing, gone. It had corroded away.”
He said once he repaired that linkage, the bells immediately started ringing, although not at the proper times.
“It would be 2 p.m., and the bells would ring 11,” Mr. Massaro said.
The solution to that issue was to reset the time on the clock, to bring it back into line with standard time. But Mr. Massaro said it isn’t very simple to reset the clock.
It’s an E. Howard & Co. clock, initially designed in the 19th century to be mechanically driven, with pendulums and weights. Originally installed in 1901, Mr. Massaro said the clock machinery has been worked on and changed a number of times, and the clock is now electrically operated.
With the age of the clock’s mechanics, the large amount of work that’s been done on it in the 119 years since it was installed, and without any of the original documentation available, Mr. Massaro said changing the clock’s set time wasn’t a viable option.
Instead, he simply turned it off.
“I waited until the clock struck 11 (o’clock) one day, and then I turned it off,” he said. “The next day, I came back and right at 11 I turned the clock back on.”
So now the clock strikes noon at noon, but Mr. Massaro said there’s more work to be done. The hands on all four faces currently suffer from something called “hysteresis,” where the degradation of the gears that drive the hands has lead each face to show a slightly different time. It also needs a number of new bearings, axles and gears.
The clock also requires a significant amount of regular maintenance, which Mr. Massaro said he’s taking on himself.
Every week, he said he climbs the numerous flights of stairs to get to the clock’s mechanicals, and oils up all the gears and pulleys.
He said with good service, the clock could easily last another century.
“This clock lasted 100 years before us, and with some TLC, it’ll last another 100,” he said.
Mr. Massaro said while the clock and bells are getting the care they deserve, the church and tower they sit in also need work. Between the deteriorating stonework on the outside of the church, to the leaky roof and the stained glass windows in need of repair or replacement, Mr. Massaro said the church needs help. Pastor Jeffrey E. Smith and the church’s trustees have been trying to find a way to pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of repairs needed, but have not yet found a solution.