Effort underway to raise funds for Woodford Courthouse tower

By Holly Eaton for Chronicle Media

Woodford County Sheriff’s chief deputy Dennis Tipsword manually rings the 2,000-lb bell atop the county courthouse. Forged in 1904 by Meneely & Co. Of West Troy, N.Y., the bell currently depends on a rotting wooden frame for support. The frame will be replaced this spring, and other improvements are in the works for the bell and the clock. (Photo by Holly Eaton/for Chronicle Media)

There’s a plan in the works for the Woodford County bell and clock tower, and, let’s just say it’s about time.

“Around 1904, this is what kept the county in time,” Woodford County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dennis Tipsword said, running a hand over the unmoving gears of the clock. “We’ve talked about taking this downstairs for display purposes, but as heavy as it is, it’ll probably stay here.”

Tipsword is a warden of the courthouse; as is everyone in his department.

Caring for the courthouse, the bell tower and its clock, are part of the sheriff’s job description. It’s been more than a decade since the clock kept the time, or the bell rang the hour.

“We’re going to put in the electronics to make the bell ring again,” he said. “We have a company, Verdin Clock, who came in and worked out what needs to be done to get everything working again.”

The courthouse was built in 1897. The bell, forged in 1904 by Meneely & Co. Of West Troy, N.Y.,was added almost a decade later, along with the clock. E. Howard Clock Co. of Boston made and installed the clock.

Now, the clock needs replaced and so does the bell hammer. The wooden housing for the one-ton bell needs to be replaced and the lights behind the clock faces are too dim. The Sheriff’s Department has the money for the bell repair, but not the clock.

The total for repairs is $46,000. Half of the deposit, $12,000, has been paid from an asbestos removal grant that will pay for the bell to be fixed. The clock repairs are secondary, Tipsword said.

“We’ve got 2,000 pounds of bronze up here made in 1904,” Tipsword explained. “We have to make sure this thing doesn’t come crashing down through the ceiling.”

A few decades ago, the dome underwent restoration and the floor supporting the massive clock was repaired, as well. But the bell remains dependent on an assembly of rotting wood that must be replaced.

If funds come in, the Woodford County Courthouse clock may keep accurate time once again. Zoning Board chairman Jerry Smith has assembled a citizen’s committee to raise money to fund clock repairs. Currently, the hands no longer move and all four clock faces show different times of day. (Photo by Holly Eaton/for Chronicle Media)

“In the late 80s, early 90s, someone determined the bell tower was starting to lean,” Tipsword said. “All of the steel braces and flooring were all added to get everything squared back up so a lot of the steel structure.”

Funding for the clock will have to come from the community. The clock was modified in the 1960s to operate electronically, rather than electrically, but stopped working properly. All four faces tell a different time.

“The clock on its own is $15,000 and we’ve only got a couple of thousand on it so far,” he said. “Jerry Smith has kind of headed up a citizen’s committee to raise money for the clock, he’s just now getting started.”

Smith is chairman of the Woodford County Zoning Board, and is responsible for bringing attention to the county’s aging clock tower. It’s Smith’s goal to have the bell and the clock running together, as they were first intended.

Smith is encouraging local businesses as well as citizens to help fund the clock repairs. Donations may be made to the Woodford County Treasurer, 309-467-4621.

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