Hay & Peabody's Seth Thomas Clock

1925 | 749 Congress Street, Portland  | Nominated to Places in Peril in 2017

SIGNIFICANCE

In 1925 the Hay and Peabody Funeral Home purchased the Mellen E. Bolster House and opened their first funeral home on Portland’s peninsula. To commemorate the occasion and twenty-five years of business for the company, they erected this four-dial street clock. The clock is one of eighty street clocks produced by Seth Thomas Clock Company, however only a few were made that have a combination mechanical clockwork and electric motor like this one. The electric motor was used to raise the weight, which was then dropped by gravity to power the clock movement and pendulum in the cast iron post base.  

Seth Thomas Clock Company is the oldest clockmaker in the United States; notable timepieces include Grand Central Station and the timepiece at the center of the film, High Noon.  While there are three public Seth Thomas clocks in Portland, the Hay & Peabody clock is the only pole mounted street clock built by Seth Thomas in the city.

The building and clock are contributing structures in the Congress Street Local Historic District. The district was designated in 2009 and was certified a National Register Historic District in 2010. The property sat vacant for over a decade when the funeral home closed in 2005. New owners of the Mellen E. Bolster House are using historic tax credits to rehabilitate the building as the Francis, a boutique hotel, with another development group creating modern townhouse condominiums, the Bramhall Residences, behind it.

 THREAT

The clock is in a state of disrepair due to a lack of maintenance over decades which contributed to rusting cast iron and rotting wooden bezels around the dials. Frost heaving over the years led to tilting of the masonry base. The specialized skills required to fix the clock and the associated cost have been barriers to its being restored to working order. Previous owners attempted to sell the clock on E-bay, however as a contributing resource in the Congress Street Historic District, Portland’s Historic Preservation Ordinance protected the clock from sale. The current owners would prefer to restore the interior mechanisms and the exterior elements so that the clock can return to its original appearance and function. Doing so requires a significant increase in project funding and is not covered through the historic tax credits program.

OPPORTUNITY

Restoration of the clock will contribute to efforts to extend the vibrancy of Congress Street west of the Downtown and Arts District. Expert clock restorers have examined the clock and believe it can be either fully or partially restored with a slight alteration to the mechanism. Opportunities to restore the clock include:

1.       Using the opening of the new hotel and restaurant to raise awareness and appreciation for the clock;

2.       Partnering with a nonprofit fiscal sponsor to raise charitable contributions so that the public has the opportunity to support this community asset;

3.       Ensuring the clock’s long-term, ongoing maintenance by protecting it with a formal Preservation Easement to keep it a vital part of the Congress Street streetscape for years to come.

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