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Courthouse Clock Back On Time

Blount County Court House

It took a licking, but it’s back to ticking. After more than a month, the west face of the Blount County Courthouse clock tower has been restored to working order.

On Friday, an employee of Cincinnati-based I.T. Verdin Co. replaced the mechanism that drives that face of the clock, which burned out back in June. It’s the second service call the company has made since it installed the original clockworks in the tower back in 1907. The first was in 1974.

Founded in the 19th century in Cincinnati by French immigrant brothers, the Verdin Company is currently led by the fifth generation of the family. Innes Theophilus (The eponymous I.T.) Verdin invented the first electric bell ringer used in America in 1927.

“We’ve been in business since 1842,” said Suzanne Sizer, marketing manager for the company. “The sixth generation works here. We’re the oldest privately-held company in Ohio.”

The technology of the clockworks used by the company has changed over the years, Sizer said. “In the past, they used to be very large cast iron pieces that were hand wound. They could also include the attachments for a bell to ring the Westminster chimes. Today it’s all a very small movement that is controlled by electronics. It’s all digitally programmable and works however that they want it to.

Not that I.T. Verdin Co. can’t go all old school if that’s what the customer wants. It can still service the old-fashioned mechanisms, too. “We can do both. We have some talented service technicians,” Sizer said.

Will I.T. Verdin Co. be ready to make another service call to Blount County in another century if needed?

“Absolutely,” Sizer said. “There’s a sixth generation working here, and they’ve all got kids.”

The inner workings of the courthouse clock have changed with the time. Originally wound by hand, the clock went electric in 1934. It has been run by a computer-controlled system since the Courthouse was renovated in 2000, said county Maintenance Director Damon Fortney.

Formerly, the clock had one central motor in the center of the tower that powered all four faces simultaneously. Now, each clock face has its own independent drive motor. “The computer keeps up if there’s daylight savings time or power outages. It can accelerate the clock or stop the clock and let it catch up,” he said.

This was the first mechanical failure of the clock since 2000. During the wait for a replacement mechanism, maintenance workers removed the clock hands on the damaged west face — a move that inspired a lot of questions from concerned citizens.

“Oh golly,” Fortney said. “I bet there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have a phone call asking if the clock was damaged in the storm. Even in the past, any time the clock failed when it had the old mechanism, there was a lot of community interest.”

The failure of the clock mechanism came on the heels of a strong thunderstorm back in June, making people wonder if it was related. “Everybody was calling and wondering there the hands blew to,” county maintenance supervisor Steve McKenzie said.

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