Union Station Clock
Congress Square, Portland | Nominated to Places in Peril in 2013
Originally built in 1888 by the Howard Clock Company in Boston, MA, the Union Station Clock has been serving the community as a publically accessible timepiece in its current location since 1982, when it was contributed to the city of Portland by the Maine Central Railroad Company. The clock is currently housed in a hip-roofed brick and glass structure that exposes the original mechanical clockworks to public view. Fully operational, it was restored in the early 1980s by Walter A. Browne and Parker L. Starrett, who made the clock hands. Once the most recognizable element of Union Station’s tower at St. John and Congress Streets, today the clock is little-known or appreciated because the way it is presented doesn’t signal its importance.
In 2013 Portland’s City Council approved a purchase and sale agreement for a portion of Congress Square, where the clock is housed. Rockbridge Capital, owners of the former Eastland Hotel, planned to develop an events center on the site of the park with remaining portion of the site to be redesigned by the city. As part of the redevelopment plans the city required Rockbridge to pay for the crating and removal of the clock although no specific plans for its relocation were made, leaving its future in question. That year Landmarks named the Union Station Clock one of its Places in Peril.
A lengthy public debate and court battle led to a vote by Portland voters to save the entirety of Congress Square for public use. A newly formed citizen’s group, the Friends of Congress Square Park, stepped in to organize events and finance improvements. The clock is still on display in the park. Their hard work has enlivened the park and created a gathering space that benefits nearby residents, visitors, and local businesses.
The Union Station Tower Clock is one of the few surviving public artifacts from Portland’s most famous example of lost architecture, Maine Central Railroad’s Union Station (1888-1961). The loss of Union Station to demolition for a strip mall in 1961 sparked the formation of Greater Portland Landmarks in 1964 and the city-wide preservation movement. Landmarks’ advocacy, which led to the adoption of a historic preservation ordinance in 1990, has shaped Portland’s built environment as we know it today. The Union Station Clock is a public icon which has become a beacon for preservation in Portland and a constant reminder of what was lost and why preservation matters.
Even with the dedicated volunteer efforts of the Friends of Congress Square Park, the infrastructure of the former plaza requires improvements to achieve accessibility and the future of the clock remains uncertain. Union Station Clock is a significant link to Portland’s architectural past and an iconic reminder for the urban preservation movement. Landmarks goal is to:
Work with the city and community groups to find an attractive and visible location for the clock that will assure its long-term preservation and public access.
Encourage the city to provide funding for the relocation, installation, and maintenance of the clock.
Increase public awareness of the Union Station Cock’s significance to local history and architecture.
- Union Station Clock in Congress Square, Lincoln Park among imperiled Portland Landmarks
Bangor Daily News
- From the dust of Union Station, Portland preservation arose Portland Press Herald
- Congress Square Plaza Has Changed Through the Years - Should it Change Again? WJBQ
- Friends of Congress Square Park congresssquarepark.org
- Congress Square Redesign City of Portland project page
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