Effort underway to repair iconic clock overlooking downtown New London

The steeple, and clock tower, of Engaging Heaven (formerly 1st Congregational) Church in New London Friday, June 30, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The steeple, and clock tower, of Engaging Heaven (formerly 1st Congregational) Church in New London Friday, June 30, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — A movement is under way to restore the iconic four-sided clock atop the historic spire of the Engaging Heaven Church at 66 Union St., in the heart of downtown.

The man spearheading an upcoming fundraising drive thinks that perhaps the stopped clock is symbolic of New London’s stalled potential and a running clock will “break the spell” that has slowed its progress.

It will not be a cheap fix as estimates of the cost of repairing the clock, with faces that are 7 feet 6 inches in diameter, are expected to near $25,000.

“I intend to prove to people of the region that a story can lift up a place,” said Kevin Dann, or Dr. Dann, who came up with the idea.

Dann is an author, historian, self-described troubadour and pilgrim whose latest book “Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau,” brought him to the Public Library of New London from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., as part of a book tour earlier this year.

Taken with the charm of the city, Dann said he set up an office at Harris Place on State Street where he raised his blinds one day to take in a view that included a face of the stopped clock.

He said an inner voice told him to fix the clock and he plans to do just that.

His research on the clock has led to some surprising bits of historical information but he hasn’t yet figured out when the clock stopped. Church officials say it has been at least a decade.

Dann said one man he met in New London told him it was not about when the clock stopped, “it’s about when people stopped noticing."

“That’s the tragedy,” Dann said.

Dann said his research shows the original clock was built by the E. Howard Co. of Boston.

The church is part of a downtown historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination form for the national register lists the building as "Leopold Eidlitz's massive German Gothic First Church of Christ, built in 1851." Eidlitz later worked with Frederick Law Olmsted on the redesign of the New York State Capitol.

He said that for 120 years, the city and the First Church of Christ, now known as the First Congregational Church in New London, shared custody and maintenance costs of the clock.

“A church spire that held a civic function,” he said. “That’s an amazing story.”

Minutes from a 1972 meeting of the church’s board of trustees lists a maintenance report from board Chairman James Wadlow Jr.

“An agreement was reached with the city of New London — at their request — for First Church to take over the care and maintenance of the former ‘Tower Clock’ located in the church tower, in exchange for a lump-sum payment of $6500, which would pay for the purchase and installation of new faces, hands, and dial gears,” the minutes read.

Records show the board voted to contract with I.T. Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, for clock installation at a total cost of $8,300 plus another $250 for electrical work. The church planned to raise the $2,000 balance of the cost through donations. The work was completed shortly after.

The First Congregational Church in New London sold the building to Engaging Heaven Church in 2015 but still holds services there on Sundays.

Dann visited with Engaging Heaven Church Pastor James Levesque, who seemed to know what was coming.

“I said to him, ‘I was sent to fix your clock.' He said, ‘I know,’” Dann said.

Levesque said he had been away on business in Arizona when he had a dream and felt the Lord say to him, "it’s time."

Levesque said he is delighted by the interest in the clock and gave Dann the green light to start a campaign and said the church expected to be a part of it.

“Dann has a great heart. He came along and really felt like this is one of the reasons for him being in New London,” Levesque said. “I’m all for it.”

Levesque said the church investigated cost of fixing the clock and in November of 2014 received a quote of $22,480 before taxes, from the Verdin Co.

With so many other causes on its plate, the church quickly abandoned the idea.

First Church Pastor Cathy Zall said her church as well figured they would not be able to afford the cost and the idea of fixing it never rose to the top of the church’s priority list.

Dann said what started as a serious but playful dream has turned into a mission of sorts and expects that the eventual success of the campaign to fix the clock will garner national press attention.

The stopped clock is featured in a fairy tale Dann penned called, “Tiny Town: the Tale.”

“As he passed City Hall, the full moon suddenly broke through the night’s black clouds, lighting up the silver hands and Roman numerals of the great clock midway up the spire of Eidlitz’s First Church of Christ.”

The story, which is to include illustrations by a local artist, will be available as part of an upcoming Kickstarter campaign that Dann expects to go live along with a Go Fund Campaign sometime in September.

g.smith@theday.com

The steeple, and clock tower, of Engaging Heaven (formerly 1st Congregational) Church in New London Friday, June 30, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The steeple, and clock tower, of Engaging Heaven (formerly 1st Congregational) Church in New London Friday, June 30, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
First Congregational Church in New London from the air Thursday, March 21, 2013. The church was sold in 2015 to the Engaging Heaven Church.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
First Congregational Church in New London from the air Thursday, March 21, 2013. The church was sold in 2015 to the Engaging Heaven Church. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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