[Seal of Spartanburg, S.C.]
Mayor Frankin W. Allen 1977-81
Mayor John G. Baeher 1973-1977
Mayor Pro Tem C. Chester Brown, Jr.
Jack M. Blasius, Ralph D. Prince
E. Lewis Miller, Hal G. Warlick, Jr.
William H. Carstarphen
Skidemore, Owings & Merrill
Fiske Carter Construction Co.
Symbolic of the heartbeat of the city and its constant change, the "Old Town Clock" above was first installed near the center of Spartanburg in January, 1881. It continues to serve today as an important reminder of the historic significance of our community.
When Spartanburg, founded in 1831 received its revised charter as a "city" in late 1880 with 3,253 inhabitants, the town council on December 2 purchased this Seth Thomas clock to install in the new opera house completed that year at a cost of $8,900 during the administration of intendent (mayor) L.P. Walker.
Standing on West Main Street at the site of the present masonic temple, the opera house was basically a town hall, on the ground floor were the town offices, the guardhouse and post office; on the second floor was an opera house with 700 seats for public gatherings and entertainment. The clock was at the very peak of the tower and was mounted above the bell. In addition to striking the hours, the bell also served as an alarm signalling the location of all fires by means of a special code.
To Spartans of the 1880's, this clock and its bell were special hallmarks of a town suddenly growing as it became an important railroad center. The third railroad into Spartanburg was completed in 1886. As a result, in that decade, the population grew 70 percent to 5,554 in 1890.
The clock was purchased in 1881 for $966.02 plus a $43.98 freight charge. Originally it was set to be "regulated by Washington Time" which provided an allowance of 19 minutes and 32 seconds for the difference from 75 degrees west longitude. When installed, the timepiece had a pendulum weighing 125 pounds, a smaller weight of 125 pounds and a "strike weight" of 800 pounds. The largest wheel in the mechanism had a diameter of sixteen inches. The bell weighed 1,200 pounds and was audible all over the town which extended out in a radius of one mile from the courthouse. The Seth Thomas Clock Company, which had been established in 1813, contracted with M.D. Bradley to install the clock in the steeple.
In the same month (January 1881) that the clock and the bell were installed in the opera house, the merchant's hotel opened adjacent to it on the public square. Three months later the Morgan Monument was unveiled in the middle of what was to become known as Morgan Square. Next to the hotel was the third county courthouse, built at the corner of Main and Magnolia Streets in 1856. A fourth courthouse at approximately the site of the present one was occupied in 1892.
In October, 1906, the town council sold the city hall and opera house for $12,123 and the building was demolished in 1907. Fortunately, the clock and bell were transferred to the imposing courthouse tower where this time the bell was located above the clock. There this "Heartbeat of Spartanburg" remained and continued its steady service amid a rapidly changing urban society until that courthouse was torn down in 1958.
Stored away, the clock was stilled and the bell mute for twenty years. In the 1970's efforts were begun by the Spartanburg Bicenntennial Committee to restore this symbol of the city in an appropriate central location. In the spring of 1979, thanks to the support of many citizens and federal community development grant assistance, the old clock and bell resumed their special, useful, and melodious service to the people of Spartanburg. Today Spartans hear the same bell that Spartans heard nearly a century before, a bell that has endured as has the community in which it was first installed.
The preservation and restoration of the clock-works were the public-spirited contributions of Mr.Joe Griffin and the Griffin Machine Works.
This plaque was made possible by the donations of Spartanburg school children who undertook to "buy a piece of the clock" for their community. Such was peculiarly appropriate since the quality of life of the community remains as always an obligation of the citizens of the future.
Hearing the bell and knowing the hour will remind citizens of all ages of their heritage as Spartans and of their responsibility for the future and for the character of citizens yet to come.
The restoration and construction of the tower were undertaken by the city of Spartanburg: Franklin W. Allen, Mayor; Council members C. Chester Brown, Hal G. Warlick, Jr., E. Lewis Miller and Ralph D. Prince.