People Around Us

A peek inside Camden's clock tower

By Kim Lincoln | Nov 15, 2012
Photo by: Kim Lincoln Bob McGowan of Lincolnville has maintained the clock atop Chestnut Street Baptist Church for the last 20 years.

Camden — Bob McGowan keeps an eye on Camden's time.

For the last 20 years, McGowan, of Lincolnville, has served as the caretaker for the Camden clock, located atop Chestnut Street Baptist Church.

Bill Brawn was the caretaker for about 50 years and McGowan said he was always curious about the clock, so he asked Brawn to take him into the tower.

"There are several sets of ladders and watching this guy at 75 [years old] do this looked pretty treacherous," McGowan said.

He told Brawn if he was ever looking for someone to take over the care of the clock, he'd be interested. McGowan said it wasn't long after that Brawn passed off the keys and gave him a crash course in clock maintenance.

"So, the opportunity presented itself," McGowan said.

Making one's way to the clock high above the sanctuary, is an adventure in itself — opening many doors, passing through several rooms and up several flights of stairs and a ladder.

The original clock was constructed in 1868 and an etching on the wall inside the tower notes the bell was hung Feb. 24, 1868. The present clock, McGowan said, has been there since 1920. The bell rings every hour and makes a stroke for every hour.

Mill towns, such as Camden once was known as, had tower clocks and the ringing of the bell would let people know when to go to work since most people did not own watches or have clocks in their homes, McGowan said. Mill owners usually paid for the clocks, but eventually most towns took ownership, as is the case in Camden.

The clock is now run completely by gravity — a pendulum that swings two sets of weights, turning the gears. The mechanics of the clock are located about 40 feet below the actual clock face passersby see from the outside.

However, the clock has not always operated in this way. When the clock was installed in 1868, it operated on a weights system, but in the 1960s an electric motor replaced the original system, McGowan said.

The motor would keep the hands of the clock cranking. However, McGowan said, that posed a problem when it snowed because the hands would become jammed with snow and would keep trying to move, eventually burning out the motor.

Because of the tower clock's close proximity to the ocean's edge, a northeast storm plasters the face of the clock with snow. McGowan said of about 25 tower clocks in Maine, no others experience that problem during winter storms.

With parts to replace the motor becoming obsolete, in 1995 the town of Camden launched a campaign, raising $40,000 to return the clock to a weights and measures operation.

"The best thing we ever did was take the electric off of it," McGowan said.

McGowan said he performs maintenance on the clock once a month and will go into the tower to adjust the clock when it gets to be two minutes from the correct time. However, he said, it rarely needs to be adjusted. He also visits in the spring and fall to turn the clock ahead or back an hour. He joked he does not come up at 2 a.m. when the time officially changes, but at about 6 a.m. when he awakes for the day.

"Most towns pay someone a stipend, but I do it for free as this is the town I grew up in," McGowan said noting this is his way of giving back to his community.

Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Elizabeth Kay Gibson | Nov 16, 2012 13:32

When $40,000 needed to be raised for the repair of the clock, a wealthy individual offered to pay most or all of that amount.  Bob thanked him but refused the offer.  He felt that the Town Clock belonged to the people of Camden and that they would come forth and raise the money.  And together we did.  Townspeople wrote checks for varying amounts depending on their circumstances and children brought their piggy banks in and emptied them, knowing it was important to participate in the effort.  Thank you, Bob, for keeping our time piece on time and for assuring that the Town's Clock remains the Town's Clock.  People like you and Bill Brawn before you help to keep Camden the special place it is.  Happy Thanksgiving to you, Annie, and your boys.



Posted by: Hildy Ellis | Nov 16, 2012 13:04

Thanks so much for this article - and to Bill and Bob. I love that we have a clock tower and I love knowing more about it.



Posted by: William Lohrman | Nov 16, 2012 11:43

Well done!



Posted by: Augustus Dakota Lookner | Nov 16, 2012 02:12

Thanks Bill and Thanks Bob. That clock has been a part of my life since I learned how to tell what time it was. I never once gave thought that someone had to look after that thing. What a great thing to give back to the town.



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