Then & Now: Chelsea Clocktower’s Fascinating History
From the Chelsea Area Historical Society
Did you know that Chelsea’s Clocktower had another purpose in addition to keeping Chelsea on time?
Frank P. Glazier amassed a financial and political empire in Chelsea around the turn of the 20th century. He was the president of the Village of Chelsea and “general manager of nearly everything in sight and about Chelsea.” His fortune began in 1891 as the owner of Glazier Stove Works that manufactured oil-burning heaters and cooking stoves--some as small as toasters--that were marketed as “B&B” --for “Best and Brightest.” Some of these are on display at the Chelsea Area Historical Society at 128 Jackson Street.
Glazier built notable buildings, such as the Methodist “Old People’s Home,” Glazier Memorial Bank on the corner of Main and Park Streets (now a courthouse), First United Methodist Church, and the Welfare Building that provided recreation for Glazier’s employees. But, the building most people notice on a regular basis is the Clocktower on the east side of Main Street, just north of the railroad tracks.
While most of us notice the clock faces on four sides of the octagonal brick tower, few remember what was inside--a water tank that held 20,000 gallons of water that could keep two full-sized fire streams of water active for about an hour (later expanded to 35,000 gallons). The business office and showroom for the Glazier Stove Works on the east side of Main Street burned to the ground in 1894 and 1895, and the fire was reported to have been the catalyst for Glazier to begin to build a water tower at the turn of the century.
The Clocktower was finished in 1906 with the seven-foot-wide clock faces installed in 1907 on four sides of the tower that were illuminated at night. The clock was made by Seth Thomas company of Connecticut with Westminster chimes that hammered on four bells ranging from 300 to 1200 pounds every quarter-hour. The clock was manually wound by various village employees by riding one weight to the ground, but an electric motor was installed in 1955 to raise the huge weights and keep the time.
The four clock faces continue to be illuminated with a wonderful glow at night. After a repair is made, the bells will once again toll for Chelsea, and our heritage is once again secured.
Including a flagpole on top, the building soared to 135 feet and claimed to be the tallest building in Washtenaw County. The tower was a late Victorian Industrial Style, and was designed by Claire Allen, Architect, and constructed using the “Kahn System” of packing grout into forms with reinforcing rods that hardened over time.
In 2006, the Clocktower and adjoining three-story Victorian industrial building with 60,000 feet of floor space were purchased and renovated by Ron Weiser of McKinley Properties and now houses various business offices. The silhouette or picture of this iconic building can be found in most literature promoting Chelsea as a destination. Perhaps Glazier, a mover, and shaker in town had that in mind 120 years ago.
Photos courtesy of CAHS