The Ayer Mill Clock Tower is the world's largest mill clock with dials only 6 inches smaller than Big Ben in London. It is the treasured icon and landmark of Lawrence, Massachusetts and its endowment and maintenance is managed by ECCF.
A brief history of Lawrence and the tower
Lawrence was formed in 1843 from land purchased from Methuen and Andover by successful business men from Lowell to establish a new textile manufacturing industry on the banks of the Merrimack River. Periods of boom followed periods of financial difficulty for the huge mills that attracted immigrant workers from all over Europe. By the 1890's a solution to stability appeared to be consolidation and under the direction of Frederick Ayer, in 1899 eight textile companies merged under a new trust: The American Woolen Company.
In 1906 president of the American Woolen Company, William Wood, Frederick Ayer's son-in-law, completed construction of a huge new mill intended to produce all the yarn for the company and named it the Wood Worsted Mill. Just one wing of this new mill was 1/2 mile in length. The mill spun the fleeces of 600,000 sheep in just 5 hours but even with this capacity, Wood soon realized that it could never fulfill all the yarn requirements of the company and so he began construction of the Ayer mill, named after his father-in-law, in 1909.
The Ayer Mill complete with its illuminated clock tower was opened on October 3, 1910. It was built to spin and dye yarn.
With the competition of synthetic materials, the courting of the mill companies to move their operations to the south and the war time demand for blankets and clothing over, the Lawrence mills could not survive and The American Woolen Company closed in 1955. With no maintenance, the Ayer mill clock stopped working soon after. With 1000's of residents out of work, the city fell into major decline and the clock, in disrepair, visable to all at 260 feet above street level, became a symbol of their economic immobility.
After 36 years, the community rallied in 1991 to restore the clock. Over $1 million was raised and the restoration project began. Clemente Abascal, a realtor and community activist working on the effort saw the restoration as a harbinger of hope. "Once the economy starts turning around, the city of Lawrence will come back stronger than ever. That clock symbolizes people at work", he said.
After the refurbishment of the clock and tower was complete, maintenance became the responsibility of the Merrimack Valley Community Foundation which merged with Essex County Community Foundation in 2004. ECCF has continued the responsibility ever since with the dedicated work of Charlie Waites who has maintained the clock for the past 19 years.
ECCF has established a permanent endowment with major support from New Balance, the Wood and Ayer Families, as well as local foundations to ensure the clock and tower continue to be maintained in perpetuity.