2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Solitary street clock a touchstone to Colorado Springs history, legendary figures

Published: April 30, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
Carl Mattson of Carl's Clock and Watch Repair re-installs the historic street clock on the north plaza of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Thursday, April 24, 2014, following a restoration of the timepiece. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Carl Mattson of Carl’s Clock and Watch Repair re-installs the historic street clock on the north plaza of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Thursday, April 24, 2014, following a restoration of the timepiece. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

After several months in rehab, a 114-year-old street clock is back in its familiar place on the north plaza of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

It’s looking great, thanks to TLC given it by Carl Mattson of Carl’s Clock and Watch Repair. Before it was removed last fall, it was a faded, dreary green. Years earlier it was a two-tone green and white. Today it’s wearing a coat of shiny dark green paint with gold pinstripe accents.

Carl Mattson of Carl's Clock and Watch Repair re-installs the workings of the historic street clock on the north plaza of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Thursday, April 24, 2014, following a restoration of the timepiece. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Carl Mattson of Carl’s Clock and Watch Repair re-installs the workings of the historic street clock on the north plaza of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Thursday, April 24, 2014, following a restoration of the timepiece. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Perhaps you remember I wrote about it last August when Matt Mayberry, museum director, asked long-time residents if they had photos showing the original color of the clock. He wanted to be historically accurate with the restoration.

You may also remember I climbed up into the clock tower of the museum in March as Mayberry adjusted that huge timepiece forward an hour due to Daylight Saving Time.

Clearly, I have a thing about old clocks, especially these community clocks. They are more than just time-keepers to me. They are a shared experience spanning generations.

And now, thanks to its restoration, the one on the plaza looks as good as it did when it was new in 1900.

Even better, its mechanics are clean and tuned and once again precisely moving its long, skinny hands past Roman numerals on its two bright, white faces, which identify its manufacturer, the E. Howard & Co. in Boston.

Crews lovingly returned the clock last Thursday and reinstalled its inner-workings, which stretch down the tall, skinny pedestal into its base where a heavy, lead weight hangs alongside gears and cables and a crank.

I sat on a bench Monday nearby, ate my lunch and admired it as folks on their way to lunch, or getting some exercise or simply killing time wandered past.

Some glanced at the clock but few noticed the timepiece with its ornate scrolled ironwork standing a few yards from the towering, contemporary glass and red brick Plaza of the Rockies office building.

In modern Colorado Springs, this antique marvel of turn-of-the-20th century manufacturing seems out of place.

It’s a relic, ingeniously relying on intricate gears and pulleys and hand-cranked pressure and gravity to measure the passing minutes and hours of every day.

Most passersby are oblivious to it. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, most have universal time — standard or daylight, Eastern, Central, Mountain or Pacific — on their wristwatches, phones, mp3 players or tablets.

To most, I’m sure the clock is not much more than a curiosity.

That’s OK. To me and others, like Mayberry, the street clock is a community treasure that must be preserved.

Thankfully there are folks like the Cogswell family who share our passion for history and historic novelties like street clocks.

The street clock is seen on Pikes Peak Avenue, just west of the Busy Corner at Tejon Street, in this Nov. 27, 1909 photo. It stands near the front of the First National Bank building, now the offices of The Gazette. Men crowd burned storefronts by a street clock; a fire truck, bicycles, and a motorcycle are parked. Signs read: “Johnson Jewelry Co.” “Perkins Shearer Co” and “Doctors W.W. & C.R. Arnold.” Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library digital collection.

The street clock is seen on Pikes Peak Avenue, just west of the Busy Corner at Tejon Street, in this Nov. 27, 1909 photo. It stands in front of Johnson Jewelry and near the First National Bank building, now the offices of The Gazette. Men crowd burned storefronts by a street clock; a fire truck, bicycles, and a motorcycle are parked. Signs read: “Johnson Jewelry Co.” “Perkins Shearer Co” and “Doctors W.W. & C.R. Arnold.” Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library digital collection.

In fact, we owe the Cogswells a big thank-you, starting with Dr. Walter Cogswell, a dentist who practiced in an office building near the Busy Corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, Mayberry said.

Cogswell admired the street clock for years and, in 1962, when urban renewal and “progress” put the clock’s future in jeopardy, he stepped in, bought the clock and donated it to the museum.

Buggies with blanketed horses park on Pikes Peak Avenue in front of the Midland Block. The two-story brick commercial building has corbeling, storefronts, awnings, and signs: “Tucker’s Imported & Key West Cigars Restaurant, Lunch, Drinks, Cigars, & Tobacco” “New-York Electric Co” “Mack Real Estate Exchange” “The Whitaker Printing Company” “Job Printing” “Billiards Pool & Bowling Alleys” and “Oysters.” Men pose by a streetside clock; the awning over them reads: “J. D. O’Haire Tailor.” Taken 1890-1900. Courtesy  Denver Public Library.

Buggies with blanketed horses park on Pikes Peak Avenue in front of the Midland Block. The two-story brick commercial building has corbeling, storefronts, awnings, and signs: “Tucker’s Imported & Key West Cigars Restaurant, Lunch, Drinks, Cigars, & Tobacco” “New-York Electric Co” “Mack Real Estate Exchange” “The Whitaker Printing Company” “Job Printing” “Billiards Pool & Bowling Alleys” and “Oysters.” Men pose by a streetside clock; the awning over them reads: “J. D. O’Haire Tailor.”
Taken 1890-1900. Courtesy Denver Public Library.

The timepiece was moved to the museum, then located at 25. W. Kiowa St., where it stood until 1989 when the local chapter of the National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors helped restore it and move it to the new home of the museum at 215 S. Tejon — the former El Paso County Courthouse, built in 1903.

But the Cogswell family’s connection didn’t end with the initial purchase and move. The family, Mayberry said, was the primary source of funding for the recent $7,000 restoration, the first upgrade of the timepiece in 25 years.

While it may look out of place next to the Plaza of the Rockies, I think the street clock is right at home next to the courthouse, which opened three years after the street clock was installed. And it’s appropriate that the clock in the tower of the old courthouse also is a vintage Howard clock, installed in 1913.

And it doesn’t matter to me if folks don’t pay a lot of attention to it.
I’m happy just knowing it’s still there, quietly keeping track of each passing minute and second.

To me, it’s a connection to our past. It has survived even as the buildings around it have come and gone, like those that gave way to the Plaza of the Rockies or the parking garage across the alley.

The street clock is seen in 1917 at the Busy Corner, Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, down the block for the Antlers Hotel. Photo courtesy the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

The street clock is seen in 1917 at the Busy Corner, Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, down the block for the Antlers Hotel. Photo courtesy the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

I like knowing I’m looking at a face that the city’s founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, may have glanced at it when he visited his Antlers Hotel just down the street or timed the arrival and departure of his Denver & Rio Grande trains.

It’s a touchstone to gold mining legend and philanthropist Winfield Scott Stratton, who built the Mining Exchange Building a block away, and whose trolley system roared past the clock in both directions for decades.

And I can imagine Spencer Penrose, the mining giant and founder of The Broadmoor hotel, checking the time on the old street clock as he was downtown on business.

“To me, it’s nice to know there are things that endure despite the passage of time,” Mayberry said. “This clock show us that not everything changes with time. Some things still do the jobs they were built to do, all these years later.

“That’s comforting somehow.”

I agree. I like to think of all the people over the century who may have sat like I did Monday and simply admired the clock. And it doesn’t matter whether anyone notices or not.

So, thanks Cogswell family and all the watch collectors and others who preserved this amazing old street clock. There are many of us who appreciate it.

The street clock on the north plaza of the Pioneers Museum, seen Aug. 22, 2013, has been telling Colorado Springs residents the time since 1900. A manufacturer's catalog priced the clock at $600 in 1890 - or about $16,900 in 2013 dollars. The clock is deteriorating, as seen around its face, and its mechanics are failing. It needs restoration and museum officials want the public's help determining its original color. This is how is appeared Aug. 23, 2013, prior to restoration. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

The street clock on the north plaza of the Pioneers Museum, seen Aug. 22, 2013, has been telling Colorado Springs residents the time since 1900. A manufacturer’s catalog priced the clock at $600 in 1890 – or about $16,900 in 2013 dollars. The clock is deteriorating, as seen around its face, and its mechanics are failing. It needs restoration and museum officials want the public’s help determining its original color. This is how is appeared Aug. 23, 2013, prior to restoration. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette