Over New Years, my intentional friend likes us to sit in a big group and practice “Rose, Thorn and Rosebud.” We say the best thing that happened to us this past year, and the worst, and the thing that we’re looking forward to in the coming year. My rose took so much time that it’s been nearly absent from the blog, but it’s an easy pick: the completion of the Hampton Town Clock Tower. (This is me talking for me, Arron would surely have a harder time choosing. There’s the completion of the first phase of Wood Island, the East Derry undercarriage, Northwood Church and Jennison barn. There’s the installation of the trusses at Troy, and the commencement of undercarriage repairs in Readfield. There’s the long-awaited restoration of the windows in the converted barn that serves as our office, shop and home for Michelle and Arron. Scott Lewis returned to PTF to be our Project Manager, a top contender for blue ribbon). My thorn was losing Joe McAllister to the wilds of Minnesota; I hope his rose was one of projects that he’s since completed out that way.
Hampton Town Clock Tower stands out because it wasn’t the typical repair fare. Instead of repairing a historic building, we re-interpreted one. In 1990, a catastrophic fire destroyed the Odd Fellows Building in Hampton, NH. The only artifact that could be saved was the Hampton Town Clock, and that had been warped by the intense heat. The clock was given to the town by John T. Brown in 1897, with a dial which spelled out “M E M O R I A L G I F T” in place of numerals so that every person who wonders why it’s half past “G” remembers his generosity. Since 2004, a dedicated group of Hamptonians have been working to restore the clock. They wanted the clockworks itself to be on display, in a housing that referenced its original home.
Most people think of a clock as a round face with hands and numbers, but a tower clock is the size of a sideboard, with large bronze gears and a 9′ pendulum that swings below it. The round face is called a dial and might be the least interesting part of the whole contraption. Hampton’s clock is a Howard Round top, which means that the gears sit between two half-round carriages, about 4′ wide, 4′ high, and 2′ deep.
The original tower, built in 1895, was too small for the clock, and was raised twelve feet and rebuilt in 1897. The roof was unique, with cross gable pitches topped by a spire reminiscent of a witch’s hat. The roof and dials perched above a belfry with large open arches on each face, and pilasters on each corner. The committee wanted us to build a standalone clock tower that displayed the clockworks at eye level, referenced the original building, and fit into their budget of just under $100,000. We also learned that the clock would work best if the bell was located beneath it, so that the drive train could be relatively straight, and not be diverted around a large bell. This created our biggest design challenge. We wanted to display the clockworks at eye level, but the clock needed to be located above a bell that stands 5′ high in it’s carriage.
At first we designed a building that nearly reproduced the belfry, with its open arches and fluted pilasters. We kept the original gables, but eliminated the witch’s hat. We presented the project at the Crit night of the Portland Society of Architects to get their input on the arrangement of clockworks and bell, and ended up getting better feedback about the roof and trim. They encouraged keeping the original roofline and accentuating the timber frame. We learned from the committee that the pilasters didn’t fit into the budget anyway. Ultimately, we arrived at a design that replicated the iconic roofline, over a much simpler box. We enlarged the arches, which echo the round top of the clock, but lost most of the Victorian trim, which took the focus away from the main object anyways. The timber framed floor hovers just above the bell, and is cut away at either window, so that the view of the clock is obscured as little as possible. The bottom of the clock is directly at eye level, so that visitors look up into its workings. One of the architects dismissed the design as looking like a ticket kiosk, which was OK by us, but I think of it as a building-sized display case for a desk-sized clock. The design process was incredibly rewarding, and the inputs from each stakeholder and committee member improved the design. Together we created a building that better fulfills its purpose than we could have on our own.
Lee Hoagland, Jake Imlay and I cut and fit the frame at the shop. The new clocktower would be erected on the front lawn of the Centre School in Hampton, and we needed to complete as much offsite work as possible before we could work onsite during summer vacation. The foundation and site work was donated by Kenny Lessard by the end of the school year, and we erected the frame in early July. With Scott Lewis and Seth Rowell’s help, we sheathed the building and completed the trim. Portland Glass manufactured and installed the 10′ high arch-framed windows, many thanks to Paul Vermette and his crew. Skip Heal of Northeast Lantern donated a reproduction of the elaborate wind directional. The Heritage Company graciously accommodated our tight timeline and slated the eight peaks and eight valleys in August. In November, the clock was installed and running and we celebrated with the community, including many residents who fondly remembered the original tower and the clock’s tolling.
While I certainly hope for more new design-build jobs in 2017, my “rosebud” for the coming year is the work we are doing with communities throughout Northern New England to preserve their historic landmarks, and that was the real pleasure of Hampton. We will be collaborating with local contractors in Troy, Readfield and Eastport in the Acworth Model to develop repair plans and share specialized skills. From the committee chair to the on-site carpenter, we are fortunate to work with folks who really care about their neighbors. We work with people who donate a lot of time, knowledge and money to a communal cause: saving the structures that serve as a reminder of our shared history and as meeting places that knit the community together.