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By Cynthia Whitty

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The Ashland Historical Commission, a town committee charged with preserving historic properties and sites, is working with a number of other individuals and groups to preserve Ashland’s past.

A current project is the restoration of two clocks, each 7 feet in diameter, on top of the Ashland Technology Center, formally called the Warren Telechron Co., at 150 Homer Ave. The clocks can be seen from the street as well as by thousands of people who ride the trains.

The project emerged in early 2012 when residents gathered to discuss how to revitalize downtown Ashland. “As a way to put Ashland ‘back on the map,’ longtime resident Jim Hanna suggested getting the Telechron building clocks working again,” Carl Hakansson, member of the Warren Woods Stewardship Committee, recalled.

Hakansson liked the idea. He took pictures of the clocks and neon signs on the back of the building to give to Glenn Rigby, chair of the Historical Commission. Rigby scoped out the project, worked with the building owner, Calare Properties, Inc. and applied for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for the work. On Oct. 22, Electric Time Company, Inc. of Medfield dismantled the clocks and brought them to their facility for repair.

“Other clocks in town have been repaired over the years. One in Montenegro Square, one at the Warren School and one at the fire station,” Rigby said. “The repair of the Telechron clocks is noteworthy because we are working with a private business owner.”

“Henry Warren’s Telechron clocks were used worldwide. They were some of the best electric clocks ever. They are 70-80 years old, and still running and keeping good time,” Cliff Wilson, president of the Ashland Historical Society, said. The Historical Society, a nonprofit organization located at 2 Myrtle St., has a collection of around 100-150 different Telechron clocks, all manufactured in Ashland.

Ashland resident Henry Ellis Warren (1872-1957) held 135 patents. He was the inventor of the electric clock and the founder of the Warren Clock Company in Ashland in 1912. The company, later called the Warren Telechron Co., manufactured the clocks.

“Warren, who worked out of a shop on his land, now Warren Woods, did so much for Ashland. He played many active roles in town. Without Henry Warren, we wouldn’t have Stone Park and the town forest. Because of him, thousands of people were employed here,” Wilson said. In 1927, with only 2300 town residents, the Telechron Co. had 1,500 employees.

Warren founded the Warren Telechron Company in 1912, later acquired by General Electric in 1943, to manufacture an electric clock that was synchronous to the power supplied by the electric utility companies. After more than ten years, Warren developed the Warren Master Clock in 1916, which made synchronous electric clocks possible by keeping alternating current flowing from power plants at a consistent 60 cycles per second. Within a decade, the electric clock revolutionized timekeeping. By the mid-1920s, Telechron clocks were in use by 20 million people.

“The inventions made money for both Warren and the electric companies,” Wilson said. As the Ashland Technology Center building superintendent, Peter Gaudino has been involved with Rigby “to bring the clocks back to their former glory.”

“We are very excited to see the end result. The restoration improves the building at no cost to the business. It’s a win-win for everyone. I hear from generations of people who used to work here. A lot of people are excited,” Gaudino said.

Gaudino and Rigby plan to host a special event soon after the clocks are installed on or around Dec. 17.

“I’m so pleased that this project is being done,” Wilson said. “The restoration serves several purposes: the town will get back clocks that work; it helps to foster pride in being ‘Clock Town;’ and thousands of people coming through Ashland on the train will see them. Also, working with local business owners on this kind of town project is a positive thing. Businesses will be attracted to a town that is working to improve conditions. People don’t realize, that to attract business, it might be better to make the town attractive, than to put up a building.”

Hakansson said they will start with the two clocks and possibly repair a third clock on Homer Ave. and replace a missing clock. “It’s great that the building owners have embraced this project. If the repaired clocks look nice, we can go on to the next stage,” he said.

“Since the town’s purchase of Warren Woods last year, people have become more aware of who Henry Warren was and his impact on the town and on history,” Rigby said.

Rigby, who became the Historical Commission chair in Aug., said, “I love history. My goal is to protect historical assets in town. Keeping the historical flavor of Ashland is important. It helps to preserve the character of the town.”

The Historical Commission is driving several other projects, including scenic road signs, plaques for historic houses and restoring the town’s Revolutionary War cemetery. “Everyone on the commission has great ideas. We all want to preserve our historic past,” Rigby said.

Ashland Historical Commission members are Glenn Rigby, chair, Julie Nardone, Elizabeth Whitham, Trevor Whitham, Cynthia Winterhalter and Cynthia Whitty. The committee meets once a month at town hall. To contact the committee, send an email to [email protected] or visit www.ashlandmass.com/ashland/boards-and-committees/historical-commission.

To learn more, visit:
• Steve Leacu, Ashland Historical Society, February 2012: www.ashlandhistsociety.com/Pages/TheMasterofTime.aspx
• YouTube video, dismantling the clocks for repair:
http://youtu.be/h4Y63YOsSpw
• The Warren Conference Center & Inn: www.warrencenter.com/index.cfm/page/History-of-Henry-Warren/pid/10294

Facts about Henry Warren in this article and additional facts below are from “Henry Ellis Warren-A Biographical Memoir” from the Encyclopedia of American Biography, The American Historical Company, Inc., New York:
• Warren coined the word “Telechron,” meaning “time from afar.”
• As a young child, he retrofitted his mother’s sewing machine to run by electricity and became obsessed with playing with timekeeping mechanisms.
• In 1890, Warren entered MIT to study electrical engineering.
• Warren selected Ashland to live and work since it had a suitable water supply for testing and manufacturing.
• He installed an experimental shop in a house on his farm in Ashland, where he conducted research.

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