Turning Back Time On Hampton's Town Clock

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, February 7, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Harvey Webber, owner of Webber Antiques in Hampton, is repairing the town clock.
[Photo by Jackie Ricciardi]

HAMPTON -- Harvey Webber said he would like to finish work on restoring the town clock, which was almost destroyed in a 1990 fire at the Odd Fellows Building, by April.

"I'd rather take my time than do it wrong," Webber said.

Pieces of the clock were rusted and twisted when Webber brought them to his antique shop in Hampton a year and a half ago, but that was the least of the clock's problems.

"It was not appreciated," he said.

The parts, which have been collecting dust for more than a decade after they were retrieved and disassembled from the wreckage of the fire, are beginning to take shape.

In the process of putting in nearly 100 hours of work on the clock, Webber has tracked down parts from other broken clocks and worked hard to polish and buff all the workable parts.

Webber said his only regret is that his father, Robert, won't be able to see it when it's completed.

His father, who made the offer to fix the clock at no cost as a gift to the town, died last fall.

Robert and Harvey Webber made the offer after selectmen were considering selling the old parts, saying it was too much to repair.

"People thought it was worth all this money and it wasn't," Webber said. "The value is that it's a part of Hampton's history.

"I knew that even if I couldn't get it to work I could paint it and make it look really nice to be displayed at the Tuck Museum. But after seeing that all the important parts and that they aren't in too bad of shape, I am fairly confident that I will be able to have it working again."

Webber said once the clock is completed he will hand it over to the town for town officials to decide where to put it.

An unnamed architect has already offered to come up with plans to build a structure to house it and recently a fund was established with $30,000 to go toward the efforts.

Ronald Bourgeault, a Hampton native and president of Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, was the one to set up the fund.

Bourgeault established the fund in order to support historical project such as restoring the badly damaged town clock.

By his gift he wished to honor all veterans, especially Robert Webber, who was his mentor when he first started the antique business.

Bourgeault remembers the clock striking was the sound that meant home to Hampton veterans returning from overseas like his father and brother and the town is poorer for the loss of that welcoming sound.

The clock was originally given to the town as a gift in 1897 from John T. Brown of Newburyport, Mass. The town made a promise when it accepted the clock to keep it in good working order.

After the fire, the clock parts were scattered around Hampton for 10 years. In 2000, all the pieces were found and moved to the basement of Town Hall for storage.

Webber said he's glad his family was given the opportunity to restore the clock. Three weeks ago, he was given the face boards for the clock, which were stored in the Department of Public Works barn.

"The face boards are in pretty bad shape," Webber said. "But those are not going to be a big deal. One of them has a good center and we will paint the numbers on it again.

"The shame of it all is if this thing wasn't in a fire I could have done it in no time."

Anyone interested in viewing the clock's progress can see pictures on display at Webber Antiques on Lafayette Road in Hampton.

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