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Courthouse clock could turn again before 2023
Halted with western face missing since April 5
This picture of two of the four faces of the Bulloch County Courthouse clock provides a sort of before-and-after illustration of its April wind damage, since the north face, at left, is undamaged and the west face remains boarded up.
This picture of two of the four faces of the Bulloch County Courthouse clock provides a sort of before-and-after illustration of its April wind damage, since the north face, at left, is undamaged and the west face remains boarded up. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

The Bulloch County Courthouse clock has been stopped for most of 2022, its western face replaced by sheets of plywood since storm damage that occurred April 5, the same evening a powerful tornado caused much more severe damage in Pembroke, where homes were destroyed, one person died and the Bryan County Courthouse lost a large portion of its roof.

Bulloch was not hit by the tornado, but wind from the storm system blew out the west-facing dial of the big clock, which has dials in all four cardinal directions. The county had an insurance adjuster or appraiser look at it in April, and arrangements have since been made for repairs, which may or may not happen before the end of the year.

The Bulloch County government’s Buildings and Facilities Manager David Campbell summarized those arrangements in an interview Monday and was then asked whether the clock could be fixed before Christmas.

“So, hopefully before Christmas, but I’m not going to guarantee it,” Campbell concluded.

 

Coordinated effort

A local business, Whitfield Sign Company, is supplying the clock face, which Campbell said is made of a “poly” plastic material. The old one was also this type of material, not glass. The faces are translucent so they can be illuminated from inside the clock tower.

For reassembly, the county has called on an Atlanta-area company, Clockworks, owned by clock repair specialist Greg Jones, who also handles the clock’s annual maintenance.

So in a sense, the repair operation itself has more than one moving part.

“We’re working with Whitfield, they’re trying to get the crane coordinated to get out there to change it out, and it’s his intent to have it either the end of this week or next week whenever he can get the crane up here,” Campbell said. “Then we’ve got to get the guy from Atlanta we have the contract with for the clock. He’s got to put it all back together and make sure it works.”

No foreign objects were found inside the clock tower after the storm, so the damage was apparently caused by wind pressure alone. And other than the broken dial, damage to the clock appeared to be limited to the control arm on that side, Campbell said. But county personnel shut the clock down out of caution, in case letting it run might cause further damage.

“I don’t know anything about clocks, so we just let the guy who’s an expert work on them,” Campbell said.

The repairs, including the new dial as well as the installation, are expected to cost a little over $10,000, he said, and will be covered by the county government’s property insurance.

 

Evolving since 1897

When first installed almost 126 years ago, the Bulloch County Courthouse clock was all mechanical, with weights that were raised and slowly descended to power it. This was replaced by an electrical drive long ago.

In fact, the current courthouse, when its construction was completed in late 1894, had a clock tower but no clock, according to “The True Story of the Bulloch County Courthouse,” authored by the late Dr. Charles Parrish Blitch and published by the Bulloch County Historical Society in 2004. The equivalent of a Probate Court judge in the 1890s, Ordinary C.S. Martin, had announced that if the people of Bulloch County wanted a clock, they would have to pay for it, and enough money was raised by “public subscription” by the end of 1896.

A local jeweler and watchmaker, Maxey E. Grimes, traveled to Seth Thomas Clockworks in Connecticut to buy the clock and then to Baltimore, Maryland, the purchase the bell, Blitch wrote. The clock and bell were installed by Feb. 18, 1897, and the clock struck the hour for the first time on Feb. 25, Blitch wrote.

Josh Whitfield was not reached by phone Thursday or earlier this week to confirm details of his company’s role in the 2022 clock repair.

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