A tour of New Paltz and Highland’s public clocks

The old bell with a ladder leading up to the clockworks in the tower of the First United Methodist Church of Highland. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The old bell with a ladder leading up to the clockworks in the tower of the First United Methodist Church of Highland. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The world did not end, according to some interpretations of Mayan prediction, so the clocks keep ticking — or at least some of them do — in public places and public spaces. With the assistance of Elizabeth Alfonso, the Town of Lloyd historian, and Carol Johnson of the Elting Memorial Library’s Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection in New Paltz, the New Paltz Times decided to investigate the history of those clocks that reside outdoors to keep the community or visitors on track.

The oldest existing public clock can be found on Huguenot Street, on three sides of the New Paltz Reformed Church’s cupola. Referred to as the “Town Clock,” archival documents pin it as being installed circa 1839, and several years later the addition of a 124-pound bell donated by the “citizens of New Paltz” to serve a joint function of a bell tower that signaled time both musically and visually.


The bell now resides inside the church, but the clock keeps ticking on three sides with an electronically generated bell-tone that rings on the hour throughout the day. It received repairs and a facelift in 1992.

Then there is the clock tower that sits on top of the van den Berg Learning Center (VLC) at SUNY-New Paltz, next to Hasbrouck Park, which was replaced in January of 2005. The original clock tower was built along with the building in 1938. But in 1990 a fire destroyed the clock tower, and the building remained clockless and spireless for 14 years.

Eric Gullickson, former public relations director for SUNY-New Paltz, told the New Paltz Times in December of 2004 that because the VLC “is a historic building — one of the first to be built on campus — we knew that we wanted to replace the clock tower with as close of a replica to the original as we could.” To that end, the college paid $495,000 to have a replica of the clock tower built and trucked to New Paltz from Campbellsville, Kentucky. It was delivered in four separate pieces and assembled on-site, then hoisted on top of the building by two cranes. This was part of an $11 million project funded by the SUNY Central Construction Fund to renovate VLC completely.

The impressive five-foot-diameter clock face with Roman numerals on all four sides is ticking away with an ancillary chiming system that can be heard on the hour throughout the Village of New Paltz. “We are sort of patching together what had been a tear in the fabric of our community,” former SUNY president Steve Poskanzer told the New Paltz Times back in January of 2005 as the tower was being erected.

Not as historic, but certainly a “public clock” is the one that hangs outside of the Wells Fargo Bank at the base of Main Street in the Village of New Paltz. The digital clock/thermometer that flashes the time and temperature every ten seconds was installed in 1965 by the owners of the former New Paltz Savings Bank. “The new time/temperature sign is just one more of the services offered to our community by the bank,” said Herman Glanz, the bank president at that time.

For a period, the lights of that clock/thermometer went out. But in May of 2001 the owners of the bank (then First Union) had the clock repaired and modernized by its original installers, Trans-Lux.

Then there are two public clocks that are not functioning: a small one at the New Paltz Middle School — originally the New Paltz High School, which was expanded in 1956 — and the not-so-old clock in a cupola at Starbucks on the corner of Main and Plattekill, right in the heart of the Village. “I don’t remember when it stopped working, but it’s been a while now,” said Johnson.

The building, owned by Dean and Susan Avery, was once a gas station, converted into a bookstore, Ariel, which was an anchor in downtown New Paltz for more than 30 years. In 1999 the Averys received site-plan approval from the Village Planning Board for a 2,900-square-foot expansion that included a courtyard and a 1,300-square-foot coffeehouse with a cupola and a clock. “It would be nice to get it up and running again,” said Donna Merth, outside of the library. “It’s depressing to have a non-working clock at the entrance to our downtown.”



In Highland, the only public clock that is working is the one on Route 9W: a digital clock/thermometer that hangs outside the First National Bank.

In downtown Highland, a gorgeous memorial clock stands in the hamlet as a tribute to all of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Fundraising for this memorial clock was kick-started by a longtime barber and business-owner in Lloyd, Jack Marciano, who donated $1,000 toward the $15,000 clock, as well as a small patch if his land next to his barbershop for the tall timepiece to stand.

Alfonso said that, not too long after the dedication ceremony for the memorial clock, it stopped working, was fixed and then stopped working again. “It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely centerpiece in our downtown,” she said.

Another non-working clock with historical significance in the hamlet of Highland is in the clock tower of the Methodist Church, where it has been perched since 1906, letting villagers and visitors know what time it is.

According to an article written by George DuBois in the Highland Mid-Hudson Post in 1944, the “Church Tower was given by Alden J. and Mary J. Elmore” to the church and was to be known as “the Julia Denton Memorial.” The church building itself was constructed in 1869.

DuBois goes on to say that the clock is a “No. 1 hour striker, operates on four six-feet dials and strikes the Tower Bell with a 40-pound hammer. The gears in the clock are made of brass and all pivots and pinions are cut from hard steel.”

In 1978, parishioners raised funds to repaint and restore the Clock Tower, which had weathered many decades and needed a tune-up. But by 1986 another fundraising effort, “Start the Clock,” was initiated by a local businessman, Ed Tesman. “The mechanism that makes the clock work is shot,” said Tesman in an article in the Kingston Freeman in August of 1986. “The impulse is gone. About three years ago it started chiming the hours wrong.”

He led a passionate fundraiser, writing in a plea for donations “After more than 80 years, our clock has become tired and no longer ticks off minutes. There is only dead silence. It needs our help!” The fundraising effort’s target of approximately $3,000 was achieved, but now the clock no longer ticks nor chimes.