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Our Silas Hoadley Grandfather Clock

January 15, 2003

A Familiar Sound From the Past

The telephone rang on a spring day not too long ago. My cousin David Crabtree from Standish was on the line and said "listen to this and tell me what you hear!" There was a silence on the phone, and then I heard a sound I hadn't heard since I was a young lad.

David Crabtree aligning the clock works

"Is that what I think it is?" I asked. "Yes" he said "that is your grandfather clock!"

"Now listen to this" he said, and I heard the deep "bong-bong-bong" of the bell as it chimed out the hour. David had been holding the phone up against our old grandfather clock that he had been working on over the winter. The steady deep "tick-tock" in the phone was the clock, working again after nearly 50 years of silence.

David's hobby and passion is working on old clocks. It is a seasonal pastime that fills his winter months, and his home, with an assortment of clocks that people bring to him starting in the fall. Mantle clocks, banjo clocks, schoolhouse clocks, and every size, description and condition of clock fills Dave's house. He cleans, repairs and calibrates them for their grateful owners. The "clock-fixing" season ends when his maple sugaring season begins.

David making final adjustments

One fine day the fall before, when the air was crisp and the foliage brilliant, I had carefully wrapped the old grandfather clock in moving pads and laid it carefully in the trailer for the short trip to Dave's house. There he and I gingerly moved the clock into his living room where it would stand until he could take a look at it.

"Do you know when it last ran, or when it was last worked on?" David asked.

"It has been in the family since I've been a small boy, perhaps longer. I remember it running when we lived in Hudson, New Hampshire when I was about 10 years old, but it hasn't run since then. That was more than 50 years ago." I said.

"Here, take a look. There is a record inside the front door of the dates when people have worked on the clock over the years. It doesn't say what they did, but they have written the dates of their work."

David opened the door to the clock and looked inside. "You know, you really shouldn't wait so long between repairs. It says here that the last time it was worked on was May 17, 1875. I should say that that 125 years is probably on the long side." he said with a twinkle in his eye.

The clock was first worked on in 1845

I shrugged off his suggestion with a smile. "Well, I don't know if you can do anything to get it running again, but I'd really appreciate if you could at least take a look at it. You'll get to add your name to the list on the door!" I offered.

"I'll see what I can do" he promised. "In the meantime, it will have a good home here."

Silas Hoadley - Master Clockmaker

Silas Hoadley was born in 1786. He was a skilled wood worker living in Plymouth, Connecticut when he was hired by Eli Terry in 1807 to build wood clock cases at Terry's clock factory.

Eli Terry (1772-1852) was a peddler turned clockmaker, and a bit of an entrepreneur as well. He started his career as a clockmaker as an apprentice to Thomas Harland.

Harland was the earliest American clockmaker. He arrived in Boston from England on November 27, 1773 on one of three East India Company ships carrying tea for the colonies. This tea was made infamous on December 16, 1773 when it was thrown overboard during the "Boston Tea Party". Harland settled in Norwich, Connecticut and had as one of his apprentices Eli Terry.

Terry established a shop to make clocks in an old mill beside Hancock Brook in south Plymouth, Connecticut. He manufactured the wooden movements for clocks and installed them in tall (grandfather) clocks. Terry believed that the system of interchangle parts that Eli Whitney had recently developed could be applied to the clock making business, and he had entered into a contract with two businessmen named Porter from Wolcott, Massacusetts, to manufacture 4,000 clock movements and works (not the cases) in three years. This was an unprecedented effort for the clock business, which heretofor had relied on individually crafted gears and cogs. Terry introduced mass production techniques and the first use of interchangeable parts by the clock making industry. His inventions enabled him to produce, at his peak, about 12,000 clock works per year, at about $4 apiece, down from the $20 or so required for individually produced works.

When Eli Terry hired Silas Hoadley to help him, he also hired another young clock maker, 21 year old Seth Thomas. The three young men established the firm of Terry, Thomas, and Hoadley and set out to fulfull the contract. After about a year of development and setting up machinery in their factory, they began production and built the contracted 4,000 clock movements in the next two years, meeting the terms of the Porter contract.

The movements were designed for clocks to be hung on the wall, but were often installed in tall clocks in standing cabinets. Tall clocks are known by a number of names, including "grandfather clocks".

After filling the Porter contract, Eli Terry sold the business to his partners Hoadley and Thomas for $6,000 on July 7, 1810. The two partners called their new company Thomas & Hoadley, Mechanics in Company of said Plymouth. They manufactured 30-hour tall clocks and added a new 8-day version to their production line. The company prospered.

Silas Hoadley's workers at his factory
Plymouth, Connecticut

On December 4, 1813 Seth Thomas sold his interest in the firm to Silas Hoadley for $2,000. This early photo shows workers at Hoadley's factory in Plymouth, with an example of one of their wall clocks. The gentleman at the front right of the photo in the top hat may be Hoadley, but I've not been able to locate a photo of him so I am not sure.

The Silas Hoadley factory manufactured 30-hour wood gear tall clocks and other clocks from 1814 until 1849. Silas Hoadley died at the age of 84 in 1870. His clocks are still running all over the world, and are a sought-after antique for collectors. We are fortunate to have one in our family.

Our Family Grandfather Clock

Our tall clock was built in the Hoadley factory in Plymouth sometime before 1845. We know that because that is the first date pencilled on the inside of the cabinet door. It was the custom to make a notation on the clock case whenever a clock was serviced. It was worked on in 1845, 1867 and 1875. The newest notations are from 2000 when my cousin David worked his skills to make it "talk" again.

The tall clock in the Hudson living room
ca 1940

Several terms have been used to describe these self-standing timepieces - "tall clock", "hall clock", "floor clock", and "long case clock". They are now all generally referred to as "grandfather clocks" and stand 7 to 7 1/2 feet tall. Our grandfather clock stands 87 inches (7 1/4 feet) from the floor to the tip of the gilded wooden eagle filial on the top center of the case.

American grandfather clocks with wooden movements are usually one of three types - one day pull-up wind, one day dial wind and eight day two weight clocks. Ours is the more common one day clock with two weights that are pulled up to "wind" the clock. Hoadley called this his "30 hour" clock. The weights are tin canisters filled with sand, and there is one for the timing mechanism and one for the chime that strikes the hours. The face of the clock is painted wood, with three sets of hands. The large hands show hour and minutes on a traditional face with another hand that shows the minute and a third that shows the day of the month. These latter two hands are smaller and have their own numbered dial to traverse.

My earliest memories of our tall clock are from my childhood, growing up in Hudson, New Hampshire. The clock held a prominent place in the corner of our living room. Before I arrived on the scene, the family lived in Nashua, New Hampshire. My older brother Howard remembers more than one grandfather clock in the house when they lived there. In addition to all of her other busy activities, our mother acted as an agent for her James Joseph Shay. He had an antique business in the Boston area for years and she bought antiques at auctions in New Hampshire for him. Mother acquired many of the antiques that were in our house this way, and Howard suspects that the Silas Hoadley grandfather clock came into our home during this time in 1939-1940. (James was born James Joseph Shea in 1873 but later changed his name to "Shay". See the Shea family history on my brother Emery Daly's geneaology website.)

Last fall at the reunion of Alvirne High School graduates from my class of 1958 and four other classes I was given a copy of the 1951 Satyr by Esther Mcgraw, another Alvirne graduate. I was delighted to open it and discover a picture of my mother when she was chairman of the Hudson School Board. She and the other two members of the School Board were instrumental in establishing Alvirne, and their picture was prominently featured in the yearbook of the first class at Alvirne.

My mother and the other members
of the Hudson School Board in 1951
Photo taken in our living room,
with the clock in the back ground

The photo was taken in our Hudson living room 52 years ago. The Crabtree family crest hangs over the mantle, and standing tall behind them against the wall is the Silas Hoadley grandfather clock. The clock ticked the time and chimed out the hours that we could hear throughout the house. It was an old friend to my childhood.

At Home In Maine

My father and mother moved the family to Effingham, New Hampshire in 1959 the tall clock came with us to take up its vigil in our new home. I soon left for college and then to different spots around the country and the world. The clock was always a familiar face to greet me on my infrequent visits home.

After more than 50 years
the grandfather clock's voice is again heard!

When my mother and father died, the grandfather clock passed to me. I was moving around quite a bit with the demands of my jobs, and lived in several different places. Each time we moved to new homes in New Hampshire, California, New York, and then to Maine the clock came with us. I carefully wrapped it in blankets for the moves, and then set it up in a prominent spot in the new houses we moved to. I tried once to get the clock started but was unsuccessful. After that failed attempt I was content to have it stand, silent and mute, in our home. Once we settled in Maine, and I heard that my cousin David worked on clocks, it was time to have its voice heard once again.

David help set the grandfather clock up in our living room in Maine, after he had repaired it. We set it in the corner of the living room where it dominates the room. The patina on the old pine case fairly glows. It is a handsome piece.

David cautioned that the clock probably shouldn't be run continually, because the wooden gears are old and will wear out with time. So every now and then, when we have company or on special occasions, I open up the wooden door on the front of the clock and start the pendulum swinging.

The old familiar slow "tick - tock" fills the room with sound, and you can hear the grandfather clock chime the hours throughout the house. It is part of our family. Somehow it seems right that our old 1830 Maine Farmhouse is graced with a grandfather clock made at the same time in history.

Allen Crabtree

References used in this Journal Entry

American Clock & Watch Museum

Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, article about the December 17, 1773 "Tea Party".

Clocks and Clockmakers, Mattatuck Museum.

Family memories from my two older brothers Emery and Howard Daly

History of the Chelsea Clock Company

"Clocks R Us", JD's & KL's Clock & Timepiece Collection, with information on Seth Thomas, Riley Whiting, and Silas Hoadley clockmakers.

Mackey's Antiques and Clock Repair History of Early American Clock Makers

Palmer, Brooks. A Treasury of American Clocks. Macmillan, NY. 1969

Seth Thomas, Connecticut Clockmaker

Sisco, Mark. "You Have Much to Earn, Grasshopper" Maine Antiques Digest, October 2002.

Photo Credits

Photo of Silas Hoadley's factory crew from the Mattatuck Museum history of clocks and clockmakers.

Photo of the Hudson School Board from the 1951 Satyr, the Alvirne High School yearbook. Complements of Esther McGraw, Alvirne HS Class of 1951.

Photo of the clock in the Hudson house compliments of Emery Daly's family collection.

Last updated March 22, 2003

Copyright © 2003, Allen Crabtree