Antique clock to remain in Williston (1/21/10)

Jan. 21, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The fate of a 150-year-old grandfather clock, a distinctive timepiece designed and built in Williston during the Civil War, has been settled.


    File photo
The Williston Historical Society has reached an agreement to purchase a clock pictured above, built in the town during the Civil War.

The Williston Historical Society is in the process of purchasing the clock from its owner and the group plans to make it an important part of its collection.

Historical Society President Terry Macaig made the announcement of the purchase during the group’s annual meeting Monday night.

“We will take possession of the clock legally in the next few weeks,” he told the group of 15 society members.

Last fall, the Historical Society seemed split on whether it should buy the clock. Some believed the timing wasn’t right for such a purchase and felt the society did not have adequate space to display it for the public. Still, other members said the clock’s historical importance to Williston superseded any concerns.

Macaig said one of the society’s board members, Gilbert Myers, began negotiating with the clock owner’s guardians late last year and has made headway in the purchase. The Historical Society will pay $15,000 over several years to owner George Munson, who is in his late 80s. Instead of drawing from the group’s endowment, payment will come from interest accrued on the endowment and from donations, Macaig said. He estimated the group would pay Munson $1,300 a year, plus interest.

Macaig told the Observer the Historical Society will purchase the clock for less than the appraised value of $18,000, stating that Munson and his guardians decided to give the group something of a hometown discount.

Bob DiFerdinando, Munson’s legal guardian, said he and Munson are pleased the clock will remain in the town where it was built.

“It’s where it belongs, in Williston and in Vermont,” DiFerdinando said.

The Munson clock has a long a storied history, beginning in 1859. Constructed over an eight-year period by George Munson’s great-grandfather, Russell D. Munson, it stands 8 feet, 6 inches tall. Built during the Civil War, Russell Munson dedicated it to the United States’ survival following the war. Etchings found on the clock’s glass window pay tribute to the country’s reunification.

The clock has a number of unique design quirks, including a music box that plays a different Civil War-era song each day of the week.

The clock stayed in the Munson family up until last year. When George Munson moved from his Williston home into assisted living, Historical Society member Ginger Isham took temporary possession of the clock to ensure its safety.

While the clock remains in good shape considering it’s age, it still requires a thorough restoration. The wood is worn in many spots and the clock’s mechanics need tuning, especially the music box. The estimates for restoration are around $7,000 and Macaig said the society will decide what work needs the most pressing attention.

As for a permanent home, the clock will likely be housed in the Historical Society’s Vermont Room at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. Macaig said he’s also been in contact with the Vermont Statehouse’s historical curator to see about displaying the clock in Montpelier during a planned 2011 Civil War commemoration.

“It would give even more Vermonters a chance to see the clock,” Macaig said.

After the purchase is official, the Historical Society will hold an afternoon luncheon or tea in celebration. DiFerdinando said he hopes George Munson will be part of the event and tell his stories about the clock and Williston’s past. Even though Munson is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he is aware the clock will remain in town, DiFerdinando said.

“He’s happy to see it done because it’s such a piece of history,” DiFerdinando said.