The Town Clock on the steeple of the Community Church is a town landmark. Its history began in 1871 when Newmarket Civil War veteran John Palmer decided that the town needed a clock that could be seen by everyone in the downtown area.
When he learned that Reverand Isaac White was planning on refurbishing the church by adding a steeple to the then Federated Church on Main Street, Mr. Palmer got busy.
On September 1st of the same year he sought to raise enough money to purchase a town clock. He created a subscription book which contained 180 names, 100 for $1 subscriptions. The entire sum of $425 raised from citizen subscriptions, paid for the clock and was personally obtained by Mr. Palmer.
(photo: 1866 - 1870. Earliest photo of church before clock and full steeple added. The Town Hall without tower and the Newmarket House without balcony are in the foreground)
The clock’s chimes could be heard throughout the village. They began striking the hours at the opening of the church re-dedication service.
John Palmer, originally born in Milton, had moved to Newmarket and worked as a farmer and carpenter living on Main Street. He, like so many of his neighbors, answered the call to war and enlisted in August 1862 at the older age of 44 as a Private in Company D, 15th Infantry. He saw battle at Port Hudson, La. After the war he returned home to his wife Bertha and they raised their family of five: one son, Willie, and four girls, Viola, Nellie, Bertha and Sarah. Two years after his clock was installed and turned over to the town, he died 15 Apr 1874 in Newmarket, at age 54.
After fifteen years of exposure to the elements, the first major repairs were made to the clock by the clock’s manufacturer, George Stevens of Boston.
The Community Church Woman’s Group raised $300 for Repair work needed for the Church steeple.
Thirteen years later additional work was needed to strength the Church steeple. In October, the Community Church again raised the $1,000 needed to replace the rotted support beams for the Church steeple to prevent it from “swaying” even further.
(photo: early stereoscopic photo of Church after 1872 with full steeple and town clock)
An other twelve years passed before more expenses of $1,625 was expended by the town for repairs.
The town voted on the Town Warrant To see if the voters will appropriate the sum of $1,300.00, as the town’s share of the cost of repairing the Steeple that houses the Town Clock.
The clock mechanism was refurbished; however the chimes were not able to be repaired.
A summer storm damaged the clock the striking mechanism. A town committee was created by the Town Council to study the feasibility of repairing the damage. Subsequently, an article was added to the town warrant and approved by vote for the tower clock restoration. An approval cost of about $25,000 was to be done by David W. Graf of Kittery Point, ME.; work was scheduled to begin January 28th, 2009, as the timing and striking mechanisms needed to be removed in order to make the repairs.
(photo: Congregational Chuch with town clock as photographed from top of Zion’s hill in 1910 by W.J. Thibault)
John Palmer gave his services in care of the clock and was given the title of “Keeper of The Clock” until shortly before his death in April 1874. Other “Keepers of the Clock” over the years were:
1884- 1904 - Charles L. Dearborn (with other town other maintenance payments made to John A. Gordon, William Proctor, Edward Tasker, and George O.Hodgdon);
1904-1939 - Charles Lavallee, an electrician in town;
1940 – 1948 - Fred Lavallee, Charles’ son, also an electrician as well as the Town Fire Chief for many years. He suffered a fatal accident in 1949 when he fell down an elevator shaft in the mills. Robert Albee was also named as a Keeper of the Clock during this period as he had been employed as an electrician for Fred Lavallee;
1948- 1984 —Walter A. Gazda, (watch maker and jeweler) assisted by his son Robert;
1985 to present (2013) — Robert Gazda, electrician and jeweler.
Bob Gazda still climbs up the Newmarket Community Church tower to wind the clock weekly. With about a dozen rungs a painted, wooden ladder is built into a church vestibule wall. The vertical ladder leads up into the hidden world of the clockworks. The eyes adjust to the dimly lit space of darkened timbers and fluffy insulation. The clock’s pendulum swings near a board inked “Newmarket, NH With Care,” probably from the clock’s packing crate when it came from Boston in 1871.
(photo taken December 2007, published by seacoastonline.com January 02, 2008 — Robert Gazda, “keeper” of the Newmarket town clock, winds the circa 1871 mechanism as he has since a youth)
More stairs, which are a mix of logs and planks, lead into a squared off area. A white pine roof protects a cast-iron platform supporting the clock’s bronze gears. Gazda pulls a pin out to set the time and places it into one of 60 holes to get accuracy to the minute. While it is an eight-day clock it works reliably for seven sometimes being off by about five minutes, Gazda said. A dial shows him the time displayed on the clock’s three faces so he does not have to pop his head out to look at the clock. He does remove the wood panels to replace the light bulbs, which illuminate each face.
Turning the crank with both hands, “like a big, old coffee grinder,” winding and checking the clock takes Gazda 15 minutes. With precise turns he regulates the pendulum and checks the dials and gears. “Dad showed me how to do the maintenance,” Gazda said. “I was winding the clock with him starting at age 10.”
He remembers as a child thinking the space was spooky and dark with lots of noise from the cranking gears. Perched in the church steeple since its 1871 arrival, the clock is currently in need of a major overhaul, Gazda said. In its 136 years the clock has had four major overhauls — the last by Walter, a trained watch and clock repairman.
The first repairs by the clock’s manufacturer, George M. Stevens of Boston, in 1882 cost $9.40. Preliminary estimates for the current work of cutting blanks, machining parts, cleaning and assembly is $5,000. The Town Council recently discussed clock repairs deciding to get repair and overhauling estimates before determining the next steps.
The clock has separate timing and striking mechanisms. Although the striking mechanism worked until this past summer, the clock stopped chiming on the hour about 15 years ago because of neighborhood complaints about the noise at night, Gazda said. In June, the support plate, which allows the striker to work, broke when an old repair weld failed. There are no set blanks for the clock as they are specially created from computer drawings of the existing gears, Gazda said.
(photo: photo Robert Gazda, “keeper” of the Newmarket town clock, checks the hands of the circa 1871 timepiece in December of 2007; published by seacoastonline.com January 02, 2008)
For Gazda, caring for the clock is tradition, sentiment and history. “It’s a sentimental thing for me,” he said. “Kind of a dedication to my dad. Even more than that I am a real history buff. I like things well-crafted that work and have historic value.” Gazda learned the trade from his father, with whom he shared the keeping of the clock until Walter’s death. Gazda’s passion for fixing things extended to a career as mechanical engineering technologist repairing and overhauling submarines. “The thing worked, troubleshooting and figuring it out and fixing it,” was what still appeals to him, Gazda said. For Gazda keeping time extends to the ballroom where he teaching dances like his favorite the waltz at various
The following article was written by — By Liz Markhlevskaya; firstname.lastname@example.org and appeared December 10, 2010.
NEWMARKET — Starting this winter, Newmarket residents will once again hear the town clock chime every hour, as the downtown icon is scheduled to undergo restorations. The town clock, which has been located in the tower of Newmarket Community Church for more than a century, is in need of major repairs.
Last week the Town Council authorized $20,000 for repairs, with $10,000 in contingency. The funds will come from the Town Clock Repair and Maintenance Capital Reserve Fund, which has more than $39,000.
Starting in January, David W. Graf Tower Clock Repair and Restoration of Kittery, Maine, will disassemble and clean out the entire mechanism of the clock. Some parts that have been worn out will need to be replaced by newly manufactured parts, said Robert Gazda, chairman of the Town Clock Committee. For over half a century, Gazda has been the caretaker of the town clock.
(photo: Newmarket Community Church today ( from the Church’s website: www.newmarketchurch.org)
The most expensive part of the project, said Gazda, will be fixing the clock’s face, which will take a lot of craftsmanship and labor. Over the years, the dials of the clock have warped due to wear and tear, and the hands have begun to rub against the numbers, he said.
Gazda predicted that taking off the whole plate and remaking the dial, as well as renting a lift for a month to do the job, will cost between $5,000 and $6,000. The $10,000 contingency has been set aside in case problems are discovered in the clock’s structure once the face is removed. Gazda said while some split boards might be found after the dial is removed, he does not expect significant problems such as rotting in the structure. However, he said the entire project will most likely cost around $30,000 total.
The clock’s striking gear train, which runs up to the hammer that strikes the clock’s bell, experienced major damage in June 2008. An old clad weld job caused the support plate to fall apart, and the clock’s weight fell on top of the mechanism’s gears and other parts from a distance of 10 feet, said Gazda, causing major damage.
Gazda said that Newmarket’s tower clock has one of the few remaining striking mechanisms that use the crane method, developed by Aaron Crane. “This is one of the very few that is an original,” said Gazda. Over its lifetime, the town clock has gone through four major repairs, the last of which was done in 1972 by Gazda’s father, Walter, a clock and watch repairman who had taught Gazda the trade. Since 1957 Gazda and Walter have been taking care of the town clock, and after Walter’s death in 1984 Gazda continued maintaining the structure’s function and historical integrity.
(photo by the Newmarket Business Association of The Town Clock)
Each week, Gazda winds the clock to keep it accurate. The clock, which has to be wound manually every eight to nine days, is sometimes off one or two minutes. Gazda said he will most likely remain the clock’s caretaker for the next 10 years; after that, a new person will have to take the reins to keep the clock running. “It’s a focal point for the downtown area,” said Gazda.
For the first time in more than 15 years, after the repairs are finished this winter, the restored town clock will strike its bell 12 times on each hour. “It will echo the time on a nice snowy evening in downtown Newmarket,” said Gazda. “It’s a great bell.”
The Newmarket Community Church has undertaken a capital campaign to fix the steeple of their church. Please consider supporting the restoration of the beautiful historic community building so that the Community Church can continue to reach out in support of the people of Newmarket.