It’s been a long while since the hands on the Chelsea City Hall tower clock turned, but rest assured, they’ll be keeping time with pinpoint accuracy after this week.
Paul Calantropo, a Chelsea resident and esteemed clock repairman in Boston and Chelsea, reported this week that he will be installing the fully repaired clock later this week and over the weekend. By next month, it should be fully operational.
“I kept trying to get them to repair it, but they were always short of funds,” he said at his Chelsea workshop on Monday. “I did a few little things in 2007, but there was never any money for a full repair. It was embarrassing to have that not working in Chelsea. So, finally, we got it done. We took it out early in the summer and have been working on it ever since. It was pretty well rusted together so it took a good amount of soaking and working to loosen it up. The extent of the rust was pretty amazing. Over the last month, we had a big push on the work, and we want to get it done by the end of the month. Some 99.9 percent of the clock is original except for the electric motor.”
Calantropo has been operating his clock repair business in Boston for 40 years and does all of the major tower clock’s there – including the Custom House and South Station. About four years ago, he established a workshop and home in Chelsea.
As an artisan who enjoys fine timepieces, Calantropo said it is a very important thing for Chelsea to keep its tower clock on the move.
“It is significant,” he said. “Every tower clock, even if partially working, is important. It hearkens back to a time when not everybody, especially in an immigrant city like Chelsea – had a watch. Public clocks were important in those days because people had to look at City Hall or another public clock to know the exact time. They didn’t all have a cell phone or wrist watches.”
Chelsea City Hall’s clock was made by the world famous E. Howard & Sons of Boston. They made clocks from the 1840s until the 1930s, and then pivoted into only making gears for the government. Calantropo wasn’t sure when the clock was made, but said it was certainly original to City Hall.
“This clock will run two, three or four clocks at once with the universal gear it has,” he said. “It’s a similar version of every other clock in Boston. The Custom House clock is about three or four times as big and is exactly the same except for the electricity.”
The only defect, at least for a purist, is that the City Hall clock had been electrified with a motor some time in the 1950s. In doing that, all of the original weights and workings had been removed. That is no rare disease for Chelsea, but something that was widespread throughout all areas with old tower clocks.
“Unfortunately, it was something that happened often,” he said. “Everyone at that time was very conscious of maintenance and the cost of keeping things up. There were a couple of guys who went around to all of these places and sold them these motors to electrify their clocks. I always say the pendulum swings in both directions on those things. It was on that side back then, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and conservation of such clocks are very big. In those times, we tore down a lot more than we should have and electrified a lot more than we should have.”