A 107-Year-Old Broken Promise

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, July 2, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Photo not in original article below. Photograph c. early 1940s.
"Presented to the town of Hampton, N. H., July 1897.
By John T. Brown of Newburyport, Mass.,
descendent of John and Sarah Brown
who settled in Hampton, 1639."

HAMPTON - A 107-year-old promise to keep the town clock in good working order is unfulfilled.

Heritage Commission member Elizabeth Aykroyd said the board is still undecided on what to do with the town clock.

"We looked at it, and it would cost too much to restore it," said Aykroyd.

The Heritage Commission voted at its last meeting to send a letter to selectmen informing them of its decision to not restore the clock to its former glory.

Aykroyd said members have since opted against sending the letter because they don't want to rush into a rash decision.

"We will talk about it at our July meeting," said Aykroyd. "I want the entire board to have a look at the letter before we send it. We don't want to rush into a decision. We want to look at it again."

The remains of the clock, which was severely damaged in a fire in 1990, are currently collecting dust in the Town Hall. Aykroyd said the parts are being stored inside the 1897 original crates the clock came in.

The promise to keep the clock in good working order was made by town officials when they first accepted the town clock as a gift in 1897.

A gift to the town

The anniversary of the town clock will be on July 17.

It was on that day, 107 years ago that Newburyport, Mass., resident John T. Brown officially presented the clock to the town.

According to the Newburyport Morning Herald, Hampton resident Charles M. Lamprey accepted the gift on behalf of the town.

Lamprey made a promise that day

"The Town of Hampton accepts this clock and receives the gift with much heartfelt thanks and with the promise that she will perform her duty, keeping it in good order, that its face may be looked upon by generations to come."

A promise not kept

While Hampton officials promised to keep the clock in good working order, they never fully kept their promise.

According to archives of the Hampton Union, the clock began to show signs of wear and tear in the 1950s.

A columnist for the Hampton Union recounted the promise the town made in 1897 and said "let's have the clock face painted and the hands and letter regilded without further delay."

In December 1990, the trustees of the Odd Fellows approached town officials with an appeal to appropriate funds to strengthen the timbers supporting the clock and bell.

At the time, Selectman Glyn Eastman agreed that the supporting platform was "in rough shape," but doubted that the town would allocate repair funds, according to archives of the Hampton Union.

The end of time

The clock ticked away at the tower up until Jan. 27, 1990.

On that day, a fire broke out and destroyed the building.

The fire began at about 1:20 a.m. and was declared under control after about four hours.

According to Hampton Union archives, spectators reported "hearing the famous four-faced clock peal for the last time at 3 a.m. although it was engulfed in flames."

For the next decade, the exact whereabouts of the remains of the clock became a mystery.

The mystery of the clock was solved shortly after selectmen began pressing as to its whereabouts in 2000.

Three faces and a bell were discovered in a black barn at the Highway Department headquarters.

The fourth face was retrieved from Lamie's Inn & Tavern, where it has been stored since the fire destroyed the Odd Felllow building.

Time will tell

Aykroyd said they have an estimate of what it would cost to restore the clock from five years ago.

At the time, the cost was estimated at $38,000, and that doesn't include a place to install it.

"That estimate is probably much more now," said Aykroyd. "We would also have to try and find a location to place the clock."

The face of the clock and the bell are in good condition, Aykroyd said. The rest of the clock, however needs a lot of work.

Aykroyd said Heritage Commission members will probably let selectmen decide what they want to do with the clock.

She said members will probably give selectmen three recommendations on what to do with the clock.

The first option would be to restore it. If that is not possible, Aykroyd said they would suggest the town keeps the parts as historical artifacts.

"They may decide to put a warrant article at the next Town Meeting and let the voters decide what they want to do with it."

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