A Triumvirate of Timepieces

At the WFPL, time is very much on our minds these days. Naturally, with the start of the new year, we have fresh planners in our pockets and blank calendars on our walls. In 2019, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the library, so we’re gearing up for a year’s worth of festivities. And just last month, the hanging clock that once graced our East Branch was restored and installed in our Local History Room.

Clock 1

This iron clock, with its ornate scrolls and Roman numeral markings, used to hang behind the circulation desk in the East Branch, over the spiral staircase. It remained in place after the branch closed in 2006. When the building was sold in 2017, the library took responsibility for refurbishing it. Now the clock not only functions properly again, but also brings back memories for our loyal East Branch patrons.

Amidst the excitement about the newly rehabilitated clock, it’s easy to overlook the two other antique clocks that have been steadily keeping time in our building over the years.

The grandfather clock to the left of the Reference Desk is a favorite among the library’s youngest visitors, some of whom make the trek to the second floor just to watch its pendulum swing. If you look closely at the mechanism, you’ll see W.&H. Sch. etched just above the numeral 12. These initials indicate that the German company Winterhalder & Hofmeier is responsible for the clock’s ornate face and reliable mechanism (though not necessarily its handsome arched case).


Our grandfather clock was probably manufactured in the 19th century, but it came to the WFPL in the middle of the 20th century. It was bequeathed by Julia Springer Hall, wife of grocer and Watertown Selectman Albert B. Hall. Meeting minutes from June 1, 1942 tell us that the library’s Board voted unanimously “To accept this bequest and to express the appreciation of the Trustees for Mrs. Hall’s generosity and thoughtfulness.” About thirty years later, the clock was restored to working order. It was placed first in the director’s office, then in the first floor lobby; after our most recent major renovation, it was installed in its current location. Our custodians wind it weekly to keep it running for its young admirers.

Unlike the unexpected gift of the grandfather clock, the double dial clock in the Periodicals Room was ordered expressly for the library from its manufacturer, E. Howard Watch & Clock Co. The receipt, dated December 29, 1884, lists the cost of the clock as $100. It is visible in several of the oldest extant photographs of the library. Can you find it in the image below?


The next time you’re in the library, please come upstairs to see all three of our venerable timepieces!

– Brita, WFPL Digital Services Librarian

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