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the Ayer Mill Clock Tower
The Ayer Mill Clock Tower is the world’s largest mill clock. Its four big glass faces are 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 in 1899 under the direction of Frederick Ayer, 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 half a mile long. The mill spun the fleece of 600,000 sheep in just five hours, but even with this capacity Wood soon realized that it could never produce all the yarn requirements of the company, so he began construction of the Ayer mill, named after his father-in-law, in 1909.
The Ayer Mill, built to spin and dye yarn, was opened on October 3, 1910. Its grand, illuminated clock tower immediately became the architectural focal point of the Merrimack Valley.
Decades later the competition of synthetic materials, the migration of the mill companies to southern states, and the end of war-time demand for woolen blankets and clothing doomed northern mills, and The American Woolen Company closed in 1955. Without regular maintenance, the Ayer mill clock soon stopped working. As thousands of residents lost jobs the city fell into major decline and the grand old clock, its disrepair visible to all at 260 feet above street level, became a symbol of the Valley’s economic troubles.
After 36 years, the community rallied in 1991 to restore the clock. Over $1 million was raised and artisans were called in to bring it back to life. 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. The original bell that had called thousands of people to and from work throughout the city, had been lost for years and was replaced by a beautiful, sonorous replica.
After the restoration of the clock and tower was complete, maintenance of the clockworks became the responsibility of the Merrimack Valley Community Foundation, which merged into the Essex County Community Foundation in 2004. ECCF, with the dedicated work of Charlie Waites who has maintained the clock ever since it was restored, continues to care for the big timepiece. In late 2013 new, brighter, energy-efficient lighting was installed to make the Ayer Mill Clock visible far and wide.
ECCF has established a permanent endowment with major support from New Balance, the Wood and Ayer Families, and local foundations, to ensure the health of the clock in perpetuity.
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Carol Lavoie Schuster
Vice President for Grants and Services
(978) 777-8876 x133
“I am grateful for the opportunity to improve and strengthen my knowledge in nonprofit management and governance. I do not know where else I could go and find such a range of opportunities!”
– 2019 Institute for Trustees attendee
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