Next week, the clock in the Ayer Mill Clock Tower, which has kept watch over the City of Lawrence since 1910, will be getting a facelift.
The west dial of the clock has been inoperative since July and Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), which is responsible for the upkeep of the clock through a permanent endowment established by local residents and leaders in 2009, is taking this opportunity to perform additional routine maintenance.
Over the course of several days, Balzer Family Clock Works, which oversaw the 1991 restoration of the clock and has specialized in the restoration of tower clocks since 1985, will dismantle the clock works and transport the pieces to its Freeport, Maine workshop. There, they will spend approximately the next six months repairing the clock mechanisms – including the gears and hands – and templating the broken sections of glass for the clock’s four 22.5-foot faces before reinstalling the clock in the Spring of 2022.
While the clock is being repaired, its faces will be illuminated nightly by programmable, multi-colored LED lights, which will be managed by Ayer Mill Clock Tower caretaker, Chris Waites, and eventually taken over by nonprofit Groundwork Lawrence.
“The Ayer Mill Clock Tower is a symbol of industry, history and architectural pride for the City of Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley, and we wanted to come up with a way to honor all of that while the clock is out of service,” said ECCF President and CEO Beth Francis.
A rainbow of color was shone through the faces of the Ayer Mill clock in 2019 during the kickoff for Iluminación Lawrence, a public art project funded by ECCF’s Creative County Initiative that brought people together through the strategic lighting of several important Lawrence landmarks.
“Iluminación Lawrence was so well received,” said Francis. “And we thought that while the clock was being repaired, lighting the faces would be a really great way to bring some of that excitement back and pay tribute to the Clock Tower, which has such historic and economic significance here.”
The Ayer Mill, current home to athletic footwear company New Balance, was built in 1910 to spin and dye yarn for the American Woolen Company. Its grand, illuminated clock tower was its crown jewel and immediately became the architectural focal point of the Merrimack Valley. When the American Woolen Company closed in 1955, and thousands of residents lost their jobs, the Ayer Mill Clock Tower fell into disrepair. It’s 1991 restoration was a symbol of hope for the city.
“That symbol of hope and unity is something we intend to keep alive,” said Francis. “ECCF is very fortunate to have so much community support and to be working with Chris Waites, New Balance and Balzer Family Clock Works to maintain the clock for the people of Lawrence.”
At 267 feet tall, the Ayer Mill Clock Tower – its patinaed copper roof visible from nearly every part of Lawrence – is the largest mill clock in the United States. The clock’s faces are just 6 inches smaller in diameter than those of the famed Big Ben in London.
The mission of Essex County Community Foundation is to inspire philanthropy that strengthens the communities of Essex County. We do this by managing charitable assets, strengthening and supporting nonprofits and engaging in strategic community leadership. Since 1998, ECCF and its growing family of nearly 260 charitable funds have granted $120 million to nonprofits, schools and students in Essex County and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to have 34 thriving cities and towns in Essex County and to improve the quality of life for the region’s nearly 800,000 residents. Learn more at eccf.org.