Clock tower tour gives glimpse of history, Port Angeles [ ***VIDEO*** ]

PORT ANGELES — The highest point — a breezy perch above the clock — feels much higher than 82½ feet.

In a rare public tour of the Clallam County Courthouse’s clock and bell tower Saturday morning, about 20 visitors climbed a wooden ladder to peek inside the 96-year-old structure, with its electrical clockworks and frosted-glass faces looking out to the four directions.

A subset of the group, from a blond grade-schooler to a gray-haired couple, climbed a steel perpendicular ladder even higher, to that topmost spot.

Up there, they inhaled a commanding view of Port Angeles, clothed in trees and asphalt and bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains.

Storehouse of history

The courthouse, finished in June 1915, is a centerpiece for Clallam County and a storehouse of history.

So for Port Angeles’ annual Heritage Days weekend, County Administrator Jim Jones led a 45-minute tour of the rotunda and tower, while showering participants with the facts beneath it.

To start, the clock is much older than its house. Built in 1880 by the E. Howard Tower Clock Co. in Boston, it was shipped around the horn to Seattle, but no buyer waited there to claim it, Jones said.

So the clock sat on the dock for 29 years, until courthouse architect Francis Grant found it — and sold it to Clallam County for $5,115.

When the courthouse was completed — for the then-steep price of $57,688.50 — the builders connected a 4-foot-tall, 2,000-pound bell to the clock.

It’s been clanging ever since — mostly.

Sure, there have been times when clock and bell have gone off line, Jones acknowledged.

Parts needed replacing, and then there was last winter’s $1.025 million courthouse restoration project, during which the clock was stopped.

Loses time

But these days, two county custodians toil to keep things running on time, Jones said.

“They went to clock school” in order to care for the 131-year-old timekeeper, and to right it as it loses two minutes per week.

“I feel like I’m living in a medieval town,” telling time by that public clock, said Catherine Conn, one of the local residents who took Saturday’s tour.

She delighted in the trip up the ladder, admiring the clock faces from the inside.

The faces measure 8 feet 4 inches in diameter, with hour hands that are 2 feet 7½ inches long and minute hands just short of 4 feet long.

The 16-by-16-foot brick bell tower tops the third-eldest county courthouse in Washington state, Jones noted; Jefferson County’s is second and Clark County has the oldest.

Above Clallam’s clock is a kind of observation deck, though Jones said he couldn’t recall any members of the public climbing up there before Saturday’s tour.

It offers a beautifully lofty, 360-degree view, he said, but it’s also a tight space — and romantic, but Jones doesn’t see the county making it available for weddings.

Ed Chidester of Franklin, Tenn., read about Port Angeles’ Heritage Days on the Internet and decided to include the clock tower in his weeklong tour of the Pacific Northwest.

He started in Seattle and also plans to visit Lake Crescent and Victoria, across the Strait in Canada.

“The electric mechanism is very interesting; I like clocks,” Chidester said, adding that after the sweltering summer Tennessee has had, he also likes Clallam’s coolness.

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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