Center School Houses Tri-Towns’ Premier Timepiece

The clock Tower that rings several times a day and soon will make a sound to signify the end of the 2021-22 school year for Center School students is scheduled for an outer facelift this summer. Inside the timepiece that faces north, south, east and west across Mattapoisett is a fascinating array of equipment that looks two parts Harry Potter and one part Willy Wonka.

            “When we applied to the state for money to do the clock restoration, they wouldn’t fund it,” said Ray Andrews, the clock’s caretaker who over a decade ago spearheaded a movement to save the contraption from going digital.

            He considered it ironic that the clock would not qualify as an educational component.

            “We had to do private fundraising, as we raised $33,000 in private donations,” said Andrews, whose advocacy group then applied for Community Preservation Act funds and was subsequently awarded $55,000 by the town’s Community Preservation Committee.

            The Seth Thomas-brand, weight-driven pendulum clock was built in Thomaston, Connecticut, in 1898.

            Situated in what is known as the Clock Tower, the inner workings of the clock sit on three levels like an archeological tell in synch with the revisions that the school building has seen since its original, 19th century construction.

            Each movement up stairs (or an elevator) and into a southbound portion of the Center School building sends a visitor from the school’s 1952-53 section to a 1936 section and finally the 1898 section.

            Originally, the clock operated on one floor with an 18-inch drive shaft to its bevel-gear differential. The drive shaft now reaches 32 feet to the top floor of the tower where four clock faces shine on Mattapoisett.

            Andrews explained that the clock once seized up because well-intentioned attendees sprayed the dry-gear parts with a commercial lubricant spray intended for more liberal applications. The mistake resulted in a need to drill out ports in order to save the original pieces. Any replacement thereof, warned Andrews, would forever compromise the clock’s operational exactness. A replica of the outside dial sits on the side of the mechanism.

            The entire mechanism sits behind a lockable glass enclosure, the beneficiary of a $5,000 donation from the Howard Stillman Bates Foundation.

            “Howie was a wonderful character, he loved Mattapoisett,” said Andrews.

            The mechanism needs to be wound 200 times a week on the bell side and 105 times on the time side. That activity once belonged to a young Andrews as a Center School student.

            It is truly a museum-level timepiece, and Andrews hopes the fascination he discovered interacting with the clock at such a young age inspires current students that would otherwise never be exposed to the rich history of precision machinery that once dominated America’s culture.

By Mick Colageo

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