By Richard H. Allen
Special to the Observer
When someone needs a landmark to direct people in and around the village of Williston, they often refer to the white church steeple with four clock faces. This, of course, is the Federated Church. Originally built as a Methodist church, it became a federated church when the Congregationalists joined with the Methodists in 1899. Seemingly as an outgrowth of this union, there came a call for a clock to be installed in the steeple.
On July 22, 1899 the Burlington Clipper newspaper reported this news from Williston: “Some of our monied men have started out with the very commendable object in view of getting a town clock. In a town of so much public spirit as Williston there is no such word as fail, even those who are out of sight and perhaps the sound, will give readily, feeling such deep interest in every improvement in their town. Money is not the god we worship, it is … good for the good it can do.”
Work soon progressed speedily and a social was held on Aug. 30 to celebrate the successful completion of the project. The details of the dedication and ceremony were recounted in the Free Press on Sept. 7 in a letter to the editor, excerpted below.
“Seldom has a town and never before Williston within my memory of more than half a century past, engaged in an enterprise that bound all its citizens, men and women, young and old together as one man and gave higher satisfaction to all than that of procuring and setting up a town clock on the Methodist church…
“As we were all now in ‘the house of prayer’ the exercises began with prayer and praise, praise led by the Essex band. This made to us real the temple of old on Mount Zion when praise was celebrated ‘with sound of trumpet, psaltery and harp, stringed instruments and organs.’…
“My limits allow me to note here only one fact evident to all, viz: How much greater is the satisfaction and delight we experience when we unite for the public good rather than for any personal and limited gain.”
If you were living in Williston in 1899 you probably would not have had much trouble determining the letter’s author. He was well known to the locals and had been active in many town and state endeavors. But the identity presented a challenge in 2012. So I went to the 1900 census for Williston looking for someone with those initials, who could read and write (as noted in the census), and with a biblical/literary background. Alanson Darius Barber fit the description.
Barber was the pastor of the Congregational Church in Williston starting Jan. 30, 1852. He resigned because of ill health, and was dismissed Jan. 3, 1860. He was acting pastor at several churches in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont before retiring to Williston in 1884.
The opening line of his letter on the uniqueness of this town clock “enterprise” is a bit of hyperbole. Just three years earlier, Williston had hosted the dedication of the Thomas Chittenden monument on Aug. 19, 1896, when an estimated 4,000 people came to town. The ceremony was marked by a large contingent of dignitaries, former governors, military leaders, and local officials. The Reverend A. D. Barber himself participated in the speechifying when he “in behalf of the citizens of Williston, returned grateful acknowledgements to Henry Root of San Francisco, to Horatio Johnson of Williston and to all others who had assisted to make the day such a success,” as reported the Vermont Watchman and State Journal on August 26, 1896.
William White, the current clock winder, said The E. Howard Clock Company of Boston manufactured the medium-sized Hour Striking Clock for Williston, along with many others that were shipped throughout the country. The clock has not been electrified like some, but instead is wound by hand once a week. White climbs 64 steps to the clock room and turns the crank 225 times to wind the clock. The bell was cast by Jones & Company of Troy, N.Y. in 1868 and the bell yoke is marked with “Patented in 1855.”
The steeple and clock underwent restoration and rededication in 1998.
White is very proud of his role in operating, protecting and preserving Williston’s town clock and its history. As he led me on a tour of the steeple, we had to dodge the ropes and cables for the clock, as well as the sprinkler system and conduits carrying wires for the cell phone apparatus. The multiple levels of the steeple reveal themselves as you climb higher, with displays much like a museum. He pointed out the unique operating system that involves large boxes of stones that act as weights for the time keeping mechanism and the bell striking every hour on the hour. The pendulum is encased in wooden box with a view window. The green housing for the gears is the heart of the operation. The instructions from the manufacturing company on oiling, setting and regulating the clock are posted, as well as photos of the steps White took to remake all four of the clock faces. The remains of the wooden hands of the original clock faces are exhibited. He has rigged up an ingenious device, a stationary bicycle he can pedal to do the winding from a lower level in the steeple.
The Williston town clock is an unusual historic artifact that still serves a useful function today, thanks to White and the citizens of Williston who supported the steeple and clock restoration in 1998.
Richard Allen is a local historian, lifetime member of the Williston Historical Society and retired teacher.
Alanson Darius Barber’s (ADB) full letter to the editor:
A Town Monitor in Williston
To the Editor of the Free Press
Seldom has a town and never before Williston within my memory of more than half a century past, engaged in an enterprise that bound all its citizens, men and women, young and old together as one man and gave higher satisfaction to all than that of procuring and setting up a town clock on the Methodist church. It is felt that the clock has been placed in the right place, -the place prepared for it.
Providentially we doubt not in the location and building of the church a third of a century ago. The church is located in one of the angles where four ways meet, one from the north, one from the south, and the others from the east and west. And not only this fortunate location of the house, but its beautiful spire leaping up into the heavens, make the place all the more fitting. The clock placed here is seen from either direction afar off. It unites with the spire to admonish us to mount higher than any spire ever reached, even up to the throne of God. In the words of holy scripture they exhort to “Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure.”
The interest and delight in our enterprise culminated Wednesday night [August 30] in the church, where a large and eager audience gathered to dedicate this heavenly monitor. The surroundings and entrance to the church was tastefully lighted up by Chinese lanterns to make ingress all the more inviting. Within we were in the presence of the University of Vermont, represented by President Buckham and Prof. Goodrich. They, with the Hon. Chauncey W. Brownell and wife, had come out to be sharers and helpers in our festal joy. In addition—and it was no small augmentation—was the band from Essex Junction. As we were all now in “the house of prayer” the exercises began with prayer and praise, praise led by the Essex band. This made to us real the temple of old on Mount Zion when praise was celebrated “with sound of trumpet, psaltery and harp, stringed instruments and organs.” The whole congregation then rose and sang “Praise God From Whom all Blessings Flow,” and were led in prayer by Rev. Mr. Crawford. Next in order was a report by Mr. Horatio Johnson and Mr. Frank Clark, who had taken the lead in this enterprise and worked diligently many days in obtaining subscriptions, material and laborers for setting up the clock. As their bills had not all been sent in, they could only report generally, and so were authorized by unanimous vote to write out their report and deposit it in the town clerk’s office for future reference, so that we might not forget who were our public spirited citizens in this work for the benefit of all.
The introduction of President Buckham opened the way for a few words upon the fact that education was a public trust and all must unite in it, and that there is a close connection between all the grades of school, from the kindergarten and common up to the college and university, and that the direction and influence necessary for progress in education come down from the higher and tend to raise up the lower to the higher. There is no break between them so that we are interested in all. The president’s address was highly practical. In relation to the clock he showed how by its regular running and constant marking off of our hours and minutes, and its loud sounding at definite intervals of their passing away, it was a prompter to regularity and promptness, efficiency and fidelity. He congratulated us in the advance we had made in setting up a town prompter for fidelity in all our duties, social, civil and religious.
Pastor Crawford followed the president and emphasized the fact that promptness and fidelity secured efficiency and satisfaction in all our duties, and so made us better and happier. He too noted the fact that the first town clocks of which we have any knowledge were set up on churches, and so were intended to teach and impress upon us the value of time and how to improve it. At the close of these remarks a vote of thanks by rising, was tendered to President Buckham, the Essex band and all who had helped us and shared with us in these festal exercises. Then as we had been ministered to in our social and intellectual life, we were invited to go down into the basement where the society of the King’s Daughters had made further preparation for our social life while we ate and drank of their cake, ice cream and lemonade. The entertainment here was relished equally with that above and with music by the band held us all until a late hour. My limits allow me to note here only one fact evident to all, viz: How much greater is the satisfaction and delight we experience when we unite for the public good rather than for any personal and limited gain. It is due also to the Essex band to say that their presence and playing here was an advertisement and pledge that they can greatly add to an entertainment wherever they are called. A.D.B.