Salisbury Heights Tower Clock.

Donn Haven Lathrop 2000

Shortly after the publication of Frederick M. Shelley's Early American Tower Clocks in early 1999, Jim Dubois of Magnolia, Texas, mentioned via e-mail that he had seen an 1839 tower clock, purportedly identified as a Benjamin Morrill, in the steeple of the Salisbury Heights, New Hampshire, Baptist Church. Following up on this lead, I had the opportunity to examine and photograph the clock in company with John Kepper, the custodian, on 2 August, 1999. It's not a Morrill, but it is a very interesting clock. I was thankful the church had been deconsecrated, as my initial reaction was distinctly unchurchly.

Salisbury Church
Figure 1. The Salisbury Heights Baptist Church, now owned by the Salisbury Historical Society. The clock's three dials are carried on the northwest, northeast and southeast sides of the steeple and it strikes on an 1836 George Handel Holbrook bell. Note the distinctive diamond-tipped hands. The shape is rarely found on a tower clock.


The clock is a small, weight-driven, all-wood chairframe with evidence of original old green paint1. In recent years it has been fitted with three electric motors coupled to the winding squares for automatic rewind. The upright, or 'chairback,' part of the frame carries the time and strike trains inside the frame. The frame members are all of wood, those of the upright portion (in inches) 2 by 2 in cross-section, and those of the "seat" portion 33/4 by 27/8 in cross section.  The overall dimensions of the frame are (in inches) 343/4 long by 291/4 wide by 243/8 high.  The 'chairback' portion is 211/2 tall, 291/4 wide, and the front and back frames are separated by 87/8 crosspieces. All wood-frame joints are mortised and tenoned and pegged. The arbors pivot in vertical steel bars with pressed-in brass bushings, inletted in the frame and bolted in place. The time train is on the left (viewed from the front, or winding) side of the clock, a reversal of the usual positioning of the trains.

1 The frame may have been stripped in the course of recent work done on it. Mr. Dubois commented on the "old green paint" when he told me about the clock.


Back of the clock.
Figure 2. The back of the clock, strike to the left, time to the right. Note the tapered arbor of the snail wheel (possibly for an internal setting dial hand), and at the far right, the auxiliary drive for the hands on all three outside dials.

The main wheels and ratchets are cast iron, fixed to turned maple barrels 51/4 inches in diameter, 20 inches long.  Main wheel/ratchet/barrel total length is 221/4 inches, excluding the winding squares which are covered by the automatic rewind connections.

Front of the clock.
Figure 3. The front, or winding side, of the clock with the time train on the left, showing the adjustable vane, ratchet-driven strike fan at upper right. Below are the long, small diameter winding barrels.

The main wheel drives the brass 64-tooth second wheel via an 8 leaf pinion, which in turn drives the brass 36 tooth escape wheel by an 8 leaf pinion. The recoil pallets are integral to a steel anchor, and impulse the metal/wood pendulum rod via a closed crutch that engages the upper metal part of the pendulum rod. There is no rating adjustment at the top of the pendulum. Rating is accomplished by positioning the 9 inch diameter, cast-iron bob, and then tapping in a wedge between the lower metal part of the pendulum rod and the inside of the hole in the cast-iron bob. The pendulum is approximately 120 inches long, and swings in the remains of a box intended to shield it from drafts in the steeple. Solving for vibrations2 per minute yields a 1.74 second pendulum.

Top of the clock.
Figure 4. A view of the top of the clock, showing, from right to left, the Y-shaped pendulum support and chops, the pallet arbor bushing support between the legs of the 'Y', the loop crutch, the nest of dial drive bevel gears, and the connection to the auxiliary drive unit.
The 'working' end of the second wheel arbor also drives a 72 tooth brass idler wheel, post-mounted on the back of the frame, via a 10 leaf pinion. (The front of the clock is traditionally the side on which the clock is wound.) This wheel has at its center a 12 leaf pinion that drives the brass 72 tooth hour wheel, to which is attached the brass strike snail. The idler wheel also drives a brass 36 tooth minute wheel to drive the outside dial hands.

2 Minute wheel of 36, second wheel of 64 with pinion of 10, escape wheel of 36 with pinion of 8:
36 x 64 x 36 x 2  =  165888  =  34.56         60     =   1.736
  10 x 8 x 60             4800                       34.56
Theoretically, the pendulum is just under 118 inches long.


The 36 tooth minute wheel is connected to a nest of three bevel gears; the two lateral gears drive the side motion works via wood leading-off rods. Interposed between the center bevel gear and the southeast (front of the building) motion work is a unique all-wood, weight-driven auxiliary drive for the outside hands. The drive from this unit is continuous to all three dials, augmenting the drive available from the time-train weight. Somewhat similar units have been noted on Eli Terry and Charles Fasoldt tower clocks, but these latter were triggered to advance the dial hands at full minute intervals, rather than being a continuous drive as is the case with this clock. The winding drum for this auxiliary unit is 3 inches in diameter by 3.5 inches long, and drives the hands via a 48 tooth, crossgrained wood wheel driving a 12 leaf pinion attached to a 30 tooth wood wheel that in turn drives a 12 leaf pinion. This last pinion is in line with the connection from the minute wheel mounted on the clock frame, the center bevel gear, a fork universal, and the front motion works.

Top of auxiliary unit.

Figure 5A. An overhead view of the all-wood auxiliary drive unit. The (replaced) main gear on the left is made up of two cross-grained layers of wood; all the other parts are original. The pillars still bear the dark green paint that apparently once covered the entire frame.
Gearing of auxiliary unit.

Figure 5B. The layout of the wheels and pinions for
the auxiliary drive unit.
The universals for the motion works at the ends of the leading-off rods are a single pin engaging a slot in the driven member. The driven member is connected to the cast-iron minute wheel, and through appropriate reduction drives the cast-iron hour wheel. The gold external hands are of a diamond form, very nicely executed, indicating the time on black dials with gold minute marks and Roman chapters. None of the dials have a service port, and the motion works for the side dials are hidden away behind the boards forming the walls of the clock room.

The clock strikes on a bell mounted above the clock, cast in 1836 by George Handel Holbrook in East Medway (now Millis), Massachusetts. The bell is approximately 33 inches tall, and is 36 inches in diameter at the mouth, is supported by the original hardware and tolled via the usual large grooved wood wheel with a pull rope extending to the first floor of the building.


Hammer & roller
Figure 6. The bell hammer and the wood roller, spanning the width of the original bell cradle, to which it is mounted.

It is extremely unusual to find a clock of this late vintage made in this particular form. Simeon Jocelin's Branford and Madison, Connecticut, tower clocks have all-wood frames, but are much earlier (ca. 1799-1804)3, and it's not likely that Green ever saw either of these clocks. It should be noted that the surviving chairframe clock attributed to Daniel Burnap, (commonly called the "Suffield Clock")4 thought to have been made in 1791, has the 'chairback' portion of the frame made of strap iron---not wood.

The auxiliary weight drive for the hands is unique and unprecedented. Its use may have been prompted by the odd layout of the clock train itself. There is also the possibility that the maker wasn't aware of the benefits of a counterpoise on either the hour or minute hands. If the clock didn't have enough power to drive the hands, a heavier drive weight should have corrected the problem. As it is, the weight at the auxiliary unit has the same effect as a heavier drive weight---the weight is just added at a different point in the train. The train contained within the frame, from the winding barrel to the escapement, is straightforward (as is the thoroughly conventional strike train), and follows the usual layout of similar trains. However, the second wheel turning at 3.6 revolutions per hour, and the drive to the hands definitely departs from the usual construction.  An attempt to unravel the maker's execution follows.

An Analysis of the Clock

The 72 tooth main wheel drives the 64 tooth second wheel via a pinion of 8 leaves, the second wheel drives the 36 tooth escape wheel via a pinion of eight leaves. The escape wheel impulses the pendulum via a steel anchor and a closed crutch that engages the upper metal part of the pendulum rod.

3 See Early American Tower Clocks, Ppg. 31 - 33.
4 See Early American Tower Clocks. Page 25. Also see:
The article by Charles Bissell in the Bulletin of the Connecticut Historical Society, Vol. 27, No. 2; The Suffield Tower Clockworks


three views of the train.

Figure 7. A front- and side-view layout of the wheels and pinions for the time train. At left is the portion of the train within the frame; in the center, the layout of the drive to the hour wheel and the dial drive(s) mounted on the back of the clock frame. At the right is a side view of both inner and outer trains, the drives to the hour wheel and snail, and the outside dials.

The second wheel arbor also has, on its 'working end', a pinion of 10 leaves that is a friction-fit to its tapered end, and is secured with a wing-nut. Loosening the wing-nut once permitted the setting of the outside dial hands, but age and wear seem to have taken their toll of this system---the wing nut is locked in place. This pinion of 10 leaves drives an idler wheel of 72 teeth that makes 1/2 revolution per hour. The idler wheel carries two axial pins that initiate the strike action once per hour, and its integral pinion of 12 leaves drives the 72 tooth hour wheel that also carries the strike snail. The tapered extension of the hour wheel's arbor may have accommodated an hour hand for an internal setting dial, but there is no evidence of either a hand or a dial. The idler wheel also drives a 36 tooth wheel, that in turn drives the motion works via the auxiliary unit mentioned earlier5. The rest of the drive to the motion works is detailed above.

The 2-fall compounded weights are wooden boxes filled with stone rubble and an admixture of cast-iron shards and several steelyard weights. The weights fall approximately 30 feet in 7 days. The auxiliary drive has a cast single-fall-suspended weight of approximately 30 pounds.

A refutation...

This clock, formerly attributed to Benjamin Morrill, bears absolutely no resemblance to any surviving Morrill clock this author has ever seen---and four of his clocks have been examined. The all-wood chairframe is definitely not the norm for Morrill (nor indeed, for any other known New Hampshire maker), and the odd auxiliary dial drive unit suggests an improvised solution to a definite design problem somewhere along the way.

5 It is worthy of note that Jocelin's Madison clock has a similar train configuration: The train wheels are carried in vertical bars bolted to the frame; two pins on the idler wheel trip the strike, and the idler also drives the strike snail wheel.


Two known Morrill clocks---the remains of the 1835 clock installed in the First Parish Church of Dover, new Hampshire, the 1836 clock in the American Watch and Clock Museum in Bristol, Connecticut as well as two others attributed to Morrill are completely different.
  Morrill clock

Figure 8A.  A Morrill clock, illustrating the total lack of resemblance to the Salisbury clock.

Green clock
Figure 8B. The Salisbury clock for comparison.
Morrill's clocks are all flatbeds, with decoratively spoked wheels and pinwheel escapements, and don't require an auxiliary drive for the outside dial hands.

A Bit of Speculation--Who Was The Maker?--and Similar Clocks

Unfortunately, there is little information to be found that would lead to the identity of the maker of the clock. In 1890 the Town Historian wrote: "After this (the 1839 remodelling of the 1794 church) Josiah Green purchased a large clock, which he put into the steeple to remain at his pleasure, for the use of the society and the public." The church records suffer from poor to no record-keeping in the late 1830's---early 1840's, thus that source is of little help.

Josiah Green, born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, on 25 May, 1790, was the eldest of nine children born to Captain Josiah Green, Jr. and Susannah (Buckman) Green, who removed to Salisbury from Stoneham, Massachusetts, in 1800. Josiah apprenticed at 14 to a carpenter/builder in South Reading (now Wakefield, a suburb of Boston), Massachusetts, in 1804. He married Clarissa Sweetser in Wakefield on 21 January, 1817, and upon returning to Salisbury shortly afterwards, built a number of houses, including one for himself, in which he lived for a few years. Of particular interest is this biographical note in the Green genealogy:

"[Josiah] removed thence to the homestead, opposite to which, in 1820, he opened a store and was in trade until 1840, although some years previous he followed the occupation of clock repairing6, in which he gained a great reputation."

In this occupation he was succeeded by his son, Sylvester Walker, after the latter's return from the 1849 gold-driven diaspora of New Englanders.

6 It is rather curious that the Salisbury historian only twice in some 886 pages ever refers to making clocks---when mentioning the Blaisdell's of Salisbury and Chester, and a Blaisdell clock owner living in Salisbury in 1890. In another reference to clocks, in about 1830 Oliver Tucker (Salisbury Genealogy) is said merely to have "learned the trade of clock repairer with Mr. Durgin (Gershon Durgin, a known maker) at Andover...", rather than being apprenticed to a clockmaker. The suspicion is that "clock repairer" was a generic term for anyone involved with the trade.
I also found this in the History of Boscawen and Webster while researching this clock: "Jeremiah Gerrish was a gunsmith and repairer of clocks and watches, and made cut-nails...cutting them out of hoop-iron with large shears driven by horsepower..."


The genealogical record goes on:
"Sylvester prefers a New England home, and remains on the homestead, following his father's trade of clock repairing, in which he enjoys a most excellent reputation throughout central New Hampshire."

Josiah Green died at age 75, on 22 February, 1866.

Joseph Chadwick7, Morrill's contemporary and competitor (regardless that he married Morrill's older sister) in Boscawen is not known to have made tower clocks (he was in Lebanon, New Hampshire, by 1821) nor were there any other known tower clock makers (other than Benjamin Morrill, whose clocks are of a different design) at work in the area. Nathaniel Atkinson of Boscawen was 86 years old in 1839, therefore it's unlikely that he made the clock. By way of comparison, the two somewhat contemporaneous wood-plate/brass-wheel clocks illustrated in Parsons' New Hampshire Clocks and Clockmakers (Ppg. 140-143) were checked, but these clocks use count-wheel striking, and their maker's locales and at-work dates preclude the possibility that they were the makers.

The time train reminds one of the trains of various later---primarily brass movement---house clocks, particularly those with an idler (sometimes called the second wheel) between the minute arbor and the time train. The distinctive diamond-tipped hands---a shape rarely found on a tower clock---remind one of the hands of a much smaller house clock. These resemblances lend some credence to the idea that a repairer of clocks built this clock.

A thorough search of Parsons' book beyond the above-mentioned clocks yields nothing in the way of hints concerning a possible maker's identity.  Donald K. Packard's When New Hampshire was a Clockmaking Center is also of no help in suggesting a maker.

7 Chadwick could have made the clock, but it is rather unlikely. His life is not thoroughly documented, but he has been traced via census records to Lebanon, New Hampshire, in the 1820's, and Norwich, Vermont, in the late 1830's---early 1840's.


There is the distinct possibility that Josiah Green himself made the clock "...which he put into the steeple to remain at his pleasure..." He may have purchased some of the parts and assembled them, rather than having "purchased a large clock" from an unnamed and unidentified maker, or he may have made the parts. The frame certainly was made by someone intimately conversant with the wood joinery of the times, yet the overall construction and the utilitarian---perhaps even crude---appearance of the clock's other parts suggests that it was made by someone who had not apprenticed to a clockmaker, but who had picked up bits and pieces of the clockmaker's skills and designed and built a tower clock whose train layout is very similar to those of smaller clocks. There is an admixture of sophistication---the pendulum box; makeshift design---the wedge-held pendulum bob; and old-fashioned design seen in the frame style that poses an intriguing question concerning just what sources of information the maker consulted in designing the clock. None of Green's contemporaries (Thomas Woolson, Jr. and Luther Elliott in Amherst, Stephen Hasham in Charlestown, and Benjamin Morrill, the last just a few miles away in Boscawen) made anything but flatbed tower clocks, nor are there any known chairframe clocks in either New Hampshire or Massachusetts. The sole exception is the (possible chairframe) clock Daniel Burnap made for South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1802-3, which has disappeared.

A record8 of the order for this South Hadley clock is signed "Ruggles Woodbridge, for the Committee" and dated "South Hadley, Nov. 2nd 1802." George D. Seymour9 wrote of "...the unbelievably big models for the hands of a steeple clock." in Burnap's Andover, Connecticut, attic work-room. Mr. Seymour also quotes the Burnap Papers (Appendix 6); concerning the "meeting-house clock for South Hadley," and the "steple" clock therefor, of which Burnap wrote; "I think it is a matter of uncertainty whether I shall be able to finish it so as to get it to you before sleighing." (Appendix 5.) Ela Burnap's (his nephew and one time apprentice), correspondence on tower clocks from Rochester, New York (February 20, 1837), asks for construction details for a tower clock, referring to "that clock we made when I was with you." Ela was born in 1784, therefore he could not have seen the "clock we made when I was with you" before 1798-1800, assuming he started his apprenticeship at 14 to 16 years of age.

8 HOOPES, Penrose R.  The Shop Records of Daniel Burnap: The Connecticut Historical Society, 1958. Pg. 31.
9 SEYMOUR, George Dudley, Daniel Burnap---Master Clockmaker:  NAWCC BULLETIN # 105, Pg. 811.


A chairframe clock10 attributed to Burnap is in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, but the only (extremely tenuous) link to Burnap is found in the description of a similar clock in his Memorandum Book.

Regardless of who the maker of the Salisbury Heights tower clock was, it is an interesting and now-documented clock, and as a side benefit, four more names---Josiah and Sylvester Green, Oliver Tucker and Jeremiah Gerrish---have been added to the ranks of New Hampshire horologists.

10 See Early American Tower Clocks, Ppg.25 - 27, and Shop Records of Daniel Burnap; "Form of the Suffield Clock."



BISSELL, Charles,  THE SUFFIELD TOWER CLOCKWORKS:  BULLETIN of the Connecticut Historical Society, Volume 27, Number 2.

COFFIN, Charles Carleton, Comp.,  THE HISTORY of BOSCAWEN and WEBSTER, N.H. from 1733 to 1878.  Printed by the Republican Press Association, Concord, New Hampshire. 1878.

DEARBORN, John J., Coll.,  THE HISTORY of SALISBURY NEW HAMPSHIRE, from date of settlement to the present time.  Printed by William E. Moore, Manchester, New Hampshire. 1890.

HOOPES, Penrose Robinson,  CONNECTICUT CLOCKMAKERS of the EIGHTEENTH CENTURY;  Edwin Valentine Mitchell, Hartford, Connecticut. 1930.

____,  SHOP RECORDS OF DANIEL BURNAP;  The Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut. 1958.

PACKARD, Donald K.,  WHEN NEW HAMPSHIRE was a CLOCKMAKING CENTER; Historical New Hampshire, An occasional publication of the New Hampshire Historical Society:  April, 1950.

PARSONS, Charles S.,  NEW HAMPSHIRE CLOCKS and CLOCKMAKERS:  Adams-Brown Co., Exeter, New Hampshire. 1976.

SHELLEY, Frederick M.,  EARLY AMERICAN TOWER CLOCKS:  National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Columbia, Pennsylvania. 1999


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