BENSON — No one is suggesting that a lightning strike like the 1.21-gigawatt bolt that hit the clock tower and sent Marty McFly and his DeLorean “Back to the Future” in the popular 1985 movie of that name is to blame.
Whatever the cause, the clock in the southeast tower of the Swift County Courthouse in Benson has not been operational for at least 30 years, Jim Hilleren of Danvers told the Swift County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. He suggested it’s time to do something about it.
“Please, let’s do something,” said Hilleren. “Thirty years of 12 o’clock noon, and two minutes after noon and 7:15 is enough,” he added.
He is referring to the time that has been frozen on the three faces of the clock tower.
Hilleren said the clock was installed in the courthouse tower in 1976 as part of the county’s celebration of the country’s bicentennial. He told the commissioners that the Swift County Board of 1897 had entered into a $60,000 contract to build the current courthouse, which includes the clock tower on its southeast corner.
As far as his research shows, Hilleren said a clock was not installed in the tower until 1976. Although the tower was designed to have four faces for a clock, the decision was made to leave the west face without a clock registry and arms like the other three sides.
Hilleren said Martin County recently restored its clock in the tower on the courthouse in Fairmont. Rory DeMesy of Mechanical Watch Supply of Minneapolis restored the clock, which is a historic Seth Thomas clock.
Hilleren said the commissioners should consider restoring or replacing the Swift County clock, although he acknowledged that might prove expensive. He said they could also consider removing the clock arms and registry, and leave the tower as it had been in 1897. Another option to consider would be to place the county seal in the east face of the tower, he said.
Commissioner Pete Peterson said there had been discussion by the county’s building committee about restoring the clock when extensive renovations were completed on the courthouse. He said the thought at the time was to revisit the clock issue when it becomes necessary to do tuck pointing on the exterior bricks.
The commissioner said he also remembers reading many newspaper articles about the efforts that had been made to repair the clock. A lot of money had been spent in unsuccessful attempts, he said.
The courthouse was placed on the National Historic Registry in 1976 and that limits the changes that can be made to the structure. County Administrator Kelsey Baker said the idea of displaying the county seal had been discussed at one point, but it was believed the historic designation restrictions would not allow it.
The commissioners indicated they were interested in doing something. Chair Joe Fox noted that Hilleren had indicated a willingness to work on public fundraising for a project.
“Jim is right. It’s time for us to address it,” said Peterson.