Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Side Streets: Historic timepiece gets some TLC

Bill Vogrin Updated: April 30, 2014 at 7:08 am

After several months in rehab, a 114-year-old street clock is back in its familiar place on the north plaza of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

It's looking great, thanks to TLC given to it by Carl Mattson of Carl's Clock and Watch Repair. Before it was removed last fall, it was a faded, dreary green. Years earlier, it was a two-tone green and white. Today, it's wearing a coat of shiny dark green paint with gold pinstripe accents.

Perhaps you remember I wrote about it in August when Matt Mayberry, museum director, asked longtime residents if they had photos showing the original color of the clock. He wanted to be historically accurate with the restoration.

You may also remember I climbed up into the clock tower of the museum in March as Mayberry adjusted that huge timepiece forward an hour due to daylight saving time.

Clearly, I have a thing about old clocks, especially these community clocks. They are more than just time-keepers to me. They are a shared experience spanning generations. And now, thanks to its restoration, the one on the plaza looks as good as it did when it was new in 1900.

Even better, its mechanics are clean and tuned and once again precisely moving its long, skinny hands past Roman numerals on its two bright, white faces, which identify its manufacturer, the E. Howard & Co. in Boston.

Crews lovingly returned the clock Thursday and reinstalled its inner-workings, which stretch down the pedestal into its base where a heavy lead weight hangs alongside gears and cables and a crank.

I sat on a bench Monday nearby, ate my lunch and admired the clock as folks on their way to lunch, or getting some exercise or simply killing time wandered past.

Some glanced at the clock, but few noticed the timepiece with its ornate scrolled ironwork standing a few yards from the towering, contemporary glass and red brick Plaza of the Rockies office building.

In modern Colorado Springs, this antique marvel of turn-of-the-20th-century manufacturing seems out of place.

It's a relic, ingeniously relying on intricate gears and pulleys and hand-cranked pressure and gravity to measure the passing minutes and hours of every day.

Most passers-by are oblivious to it. And why shouldn't they be? After all, most have universal time - standard or daylight, Eastern, Central, Mountain or Pacific - on their wristwatches, cellphones, MP3 players or tablets.

To most, I'm sure the clock is not much more than a curiosity.

That's OK. To me and others, like Mayberry, the street clock is a community treasure that must be preserved.

Thankfully, there are folks like the Cogswell family who share our passion for history and historic novelties.

In fact, we owe the Cogswells a big thank you, starting with Dr. Walter Cogswell, a dentist who practiced in an office building near the busy corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, Mayberry said.

Cogswell admired the street clock for years and, in 1962, when urban renewal and "progress" put the clock's future in jeopardy, he bought the clock and donated it to the museum.

The timepiece was moved to the museum, then at 25 W. Kiowa St., where it stood until 1989, when the local chapter of the National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors helped restore it and move it to the museum's new home at 215 S. Tejon - the former El Paso County Courthouse.

But the Cogswell family's connection didn't end with the initial purchase and move.

The family, Mayberry said, was the primary source of funding for the recent $7,000 restoration, the first upgrade of the timepiece in 25 years.

While the street clock may look out of place next to the Plaza of the Rockies, I think it is right at home next to the courthouse, which opened three years after the street clock was installed. And it's appropriate that the clock in the tower of the old courthouse also is a vintage Howard clock, installed in 1913.

The street clock has survived even as the buildings around it have come and gone, like those that gave way to the Plaza of the Rockies or the parking garage across the alley.

I like knowing I'm looking at a face that the city's founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, may have glanced at when he visited his Antlers Hotel just down the street or timed the arrival and departure of his Denver & Rio Grande trains.

It's a touchstone to gold mining legend and philanthropist Winfield Scott Stratton, who built the Mining Exchange Building a block away, and whose trolley system roared past the clock in both directions for decades.

And I can imagine Spencer Penrose, the mining giant and founder of The Broadmoor hotel, checking the time on the old street clock as he was downtown on business.

"To me, it's nice to know there are things that endure despite the passage of time," Mayberry said. "This clock shows us that not everything changes with time. Some things still do the jobs they were built to do, all these years later.

"That's comforting somehow."

I agree.

I like to think of all the people over the century who may have sat like I did Monday and simply admired the clock. And it doesn't matter whether anyone notices or not.

So, thanks Cogswell family and all the watch collectors and others who preserved this amazing old street clock. There are many of us who appreciate it.

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Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.

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