The Rhea County Courthouse was built in 1891. The clock mechanism that rings the bell in the Rhea County Courthouse bell tower was built and installed in March of 1893, two years after the courthouse was built. According to the plate on the front, the clock mechanism #747 was built on March 15, 1893, by A.S. Hotchkiss of the Seth Thomas Clock Company of Thomaston, Connecticut. The bell in the clock tower was made in 1893 by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore, Maryland.
At the top of every hour, the clock would strike the bell which would ring out the same number of times as the given hour. Ringing once on every half hour also. For the next 67 years, the bell was a familiar sound in Dayton, until it went silent sometime during 1960.
Lee Taylor, who was an accountant in the courthouse, crossed paths in the post office with Dayton businessman Bill Houston. It was customary for residents and businessmen to make their daily rounds to the post office and would often strike up conversations with one another.
On this particular morning in January of 1972, Bill Houston, who was the owner of Rhea Tool & Die which was located in north Dayton, enquired of Taylor as to “Why the courthouse bell does not ring anymore?”.
Lee explained to Houston that sometime back in 1960, the clock stopped working and they had been unsuccessful in getting it repaired. According to Lee at the time of the conversation with Houston, there had been several clock enthusiast, hobbyist and professionals check the clock in the previous years and they all came to the same conclusion that it could not be repaired.
Houston, who was a natural born mechanic with a love for precision instruments, made arrangements with Taylor to come to the courthouse and look at the clock to see if it was in fact a lost cause.
Arriving early one morning, Bill Houston brought another Houston along with him. Leon Houston from Spring City, although no kin of Bill’s, was an employee Bill’s at Rhea Tool and Die. Leon and Bill both had a kindred love for machines.
The funneling winds went up and down their backs but the two kept at their work. They continued the scraping, cleaning, oiling, adjusting, and tightening. After several hours, their effort proved effective when they got the clock’s mechanism working. With use of their own watches, they kept trying to synchronize the chains until five minutes on the clock were the same five minute time period on their watches.
They repeated the scraping, cleaning, oiling, adjusting, and tightening on the chains that cause the big bell in the steeple to gong on schedule.
At three o’clock that afternoon, the two men in the tower and Lee who was down below in the courthouse almost jumped with joy as the clock’s hands moved into proper place with the little hand at the “3” and the big hand at the “12” and the old bell rang out ONE-TWO-THREE.
It was well worth the time and effort that Bill and Leon had put into getting the old clock to work again. The two men instructed Arden Harwell, the custodian at the Rhea County Courthouse on the procedure to maintain the clock in order to keep it running.
The original clock mechanism, shown in the above featured photo, continued to be used until it was replaced with a newer electric clock mechanism about the time of the courthouse renovation in the late 1970’s. The old original clock mechanism now sits on display the the courthouse museum in the basement.
Still today, the original bell in the tower continues to sound that familiar gong right on schedule.
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