Gilbert Block Clock Keeps Ticking with a Little Help from Friends
GILBERTSVILLE—Anyone visiting the Village of Gilbertsville for the first time is immediately struck by its charm. Facing west on the corner of State Highway 51 and Commercial Street is the stately and spacious Tudor-style Major’s Inn. Completed in 1901, the inn is a venue for many community and social events, including weddings, high-school proms, and an annual three-day quilt show. The inn’s architectural style was built to complement Commercial Street’s Gilbert Block, a tri-gabled row of commercial buildings, also Tudor-style, designed by Boston architect Henry Forbes Bigelow and completed in 1895. The Gilbert Block is owned and maintained by the non-profit Village Improvement Society, founded in 1891.
The center gable of this architectural triptych features a non-striking tower clock manufactured by E. Howard & Co., also of Boston, and installed in 1894, according to Gilbertsville Free Library archivist Leigh Eckmair. Being a mechanical clock, it must be hand-wound.
For roughly 35 years, Jim Lull, who lived in Gilbertsville from 1979 to 2014, assumed the responsibility of clock winding, having agreed to substitute for the previous clock winder, Overton Mott, who needed time away to take care of his ailing mother. Mott never returned to duty. Although Jim still acts as substitute clock winder, in 2014 he passed the clock-winding baton to his son, Nate, sports director at WCDO radio station in Sidney.
“It only takes 30 seconds to one minute to wind the clock and it will run for seven or eight days before I have to do it again,” Nate said.
Nate’s clock-winding efforts have lately been bolstered by Gilbertsville resident T. Sean Herbert, an Emmy award-winning broadcast news journalist who moved to Gilbertsville in 2021. Herbert expressed appreciation for Nate’s efforts.
“As you can imagine, when you are responsible for keeping something alive, whether it’s a mechanical timepiece, a pet or another human being, it’s a calling. And Nate has a remarkable sense of responsibility to keep this village clock ticking. Even after the birth of his first child (with his wife, Amanda), he continues to wind the clock and watch to see how well the clock is keeping time,” Herbert said.
Herbert noticed that the clock was sometimes losing time and would stop running.
“The clock’s mechanism is about the size of a typical kitchen oven, but likely weighs much more than an oven given the era it was manufactured. Like most mechanical things, this clock is complicated and quirky. It appears to be susceptible to changing weather conditions,” Herbert said.
He informed the VIS that, coordinating with Nate, he would like to pay for an expert to examine the clock and get it to keep more accurate time.
Herbert had been trying for two years, to no avail, to entice a watchmaker he knew in the area to look at the clock. In a harmonic twist of fate, the VIS board engaged a realtor in September 2023 to help find an occupant for the Gilbert Block space formerly occupied by the Gilbertsville Value Way. The realtor and Herbert’s watchmaker turned out to be one and the same, Patrick O’Neil of Norwich.
“I immediately called him and said, ‘you have no more excuses, you better come and check out our clock ASAP!’” Herbert said.
Just before clocks were set back for Eastern Standard Time, Herbert coordinated that visit, along with additional calls, meetings, and visits with both Lulls. McNeil assured Lull and Herbert that the clock was mechanically sound. He also gave Herbert instructions and cleaning materials to service the clock. Nonetheless, the two men will be looking for an antique clock expert who can fine tune the workings of the Gilbert Block clock.
Besides its inner workings, the clock’s exterior also needs a facelift.
“It probably needs some fresh paint, and we may look into the archives at the library to get a better idea of what the clock looked like in the past. We want to preserve its historical integrity but also make it more visible,” Nate said.
“We want to have the clock’s exterior work done by this spring,” Herbert said.
Herbert’s interest in maintaining the Gilbert Block clock springs from a professed “lifelong passion for time keeping.”
“I’ve been collecting mechanical watches for years. My obsession began with my grandmother’s banjo clock that hung in her living room throughout my childhood. It needed to be wound every seven or eight days—same as the village clock,” Herbert said.
The banjo clock now hangs on the living room wall of the Spring Street home Herbert shares with his wife, Taryn Grimes, an author and producer.
“I’m not sure when it was manufactured, but it was made by Gilbert Clock Company in Winsted, Connecticut. Coincidence? I think not,” Herbert mused.