Rome’s iconic Clocktower turning 150
Rome’s famous Clocktower can be seen on business logos, t-shirts, bumper stickers and coffee mugs around the area.
But many Rome residents don’t realize that as the famous local structure turns 150 in 2022, that it’s beginnings were purely utilitarian. While it’s the subject of paintings, photographs and prints now, it severed a very immediate and practical function a century ago.
Selena Tilly knows quite a bit about the Clocktower. The Rome Area History Center’s director said what we know as the Rome Clocktower today looked a little different when it was first built in 1871.
“The whole reason we have a clocktower in the first place is because at the time we had a volunteer fire department,” Tilly said. “They had purchased two steam pumpers that would drain wells on Broad Street to fight fires. But the wells couldn’t keep up with the demand. So the fire department approached the city about creating some sort of water reservoir to hold water until when it was needed.”
One of the men charged with coming up with a solution was John Noble of the Noble Brothers Foundry. A group from Rome visited Bowling Green, Kentucky. The water system there had opened in 1869 and their system was used as a preliminary plan to go by, Tilly said.
The initial construction of our clocktower did not have a clock on top. It was just a tank around which a brick decagon was constructed and a roof on top. The tank held 250,000 gallons of water which was used to fight fires and provided water to businesses and homes downtown.
The tank was dedicated on Jan. 27, 1872. But soon, Rome residents started requesting some sort of embellishment to the tower.
“The said we have this beautiful tower that encases the tank but we want to put something on top to beautify it,” Tilly said. “One suggestion was a planetarium where
school kids could look at stars and planets. And there were other ideas as well. A clock wasn’t the first choice.”
Finally, during the summer of 1872, the city settled on the idea of putting clockworks on top of the tower. John Noble drew up plans for a superstructure on top of the tower.
Clockworks were ordered from Boston and a bell was purchased from a foundry in New York.
In October, 1872, those items arrived and they were installed, with the new Rome Clocktower being rededicated in December, 1872.
“What you see now is pretty much the way it looked when it was built,” Tilly said. “The louvres on the decagon and doorway were not painted white as they are now. They were painted a brick color.”
The hands of the clock have changed three times. When the structure was renovated in 1994 and 1995, the original clockworks were taken down and are still on display. They were replaced by four electric motors and a computer which syncs all four motors to the same time.
The bell is in its original location, Tilly said. It has never been moved.
“The sound you hear today is the same sound that Rome residents heard in 1872,” she said. “Our bell has never been one that swings back and forth. It’s always had three striking hammers.”
At the time it was operated as a tank and reservoir, there was a well where Fourth Avenue runs into Glen Milner Boulevard. A pumping station pumped water from here into the tower. City officials soon realized the water could be used to service business and homes as well as to fight fires.
“It was used that way until the pumping station went from well water to river water when the city put a new water filtration plant on top of Jackson Hill in 1892-93,” Tilly said. “And then after that our Clocktower was used as a backup.”
It held water until 1967 when then drained for the final time.
An interesting point to note, Tilly said, is that the tower sits on a 9-foot deep granite foundation.
“It’s very well supported,” she said. “That’s another reason it’s survived as long as it has.”
As our iconic Clocktower turns 150 years old, the city had several celebratory events planned for the coming year. There’s a Build Your Own Clocktower Craft Night on Jan. 13 starting at 4 p.m. at the Rome Area History Center, 305 Broad St. Supplies and Clocktower templates will be provided. The cost is $5 per person and is open to everyone. Register at freshtix.com/events/romeclocktower-craft-night to reserve a spot.
On Jan. 27, Rome residents can celebrate the clocktower’s birthday with a party at 11:30 a.m. The celebration will be held on the clocktower grounds and will include music, festivities and cake.
Clocktower tours run in April through September on the first Saturday of each month from noon to 2 p.m.
On the first Saturday in November, a special tour called the Fall Spectacular will be held. Visitors can take photos of fall foliage from atop the clocktower and even get a photo of the sunset from such a unique vantagepoint.
“We have a lot of fun things planned,” Tilly said. “There will be painting events, a Night with the Stars where we invite people to come view the stars and planets from Clocktower Hill and even a Movie Night.”
But one of the things the historian is most excited about is an upcoming lecture series starting in April. Attendees will learn about the history of the Rome Clocktower with never before revealed information.
“I don’t want to give too much away but there is so much history there that people will be surprised to learn,” she said. “For example, they’ll learn about the history of the hillside itself that the Clocktower sits on. Even before the tower was even built that hillside holds some important history of Rome’s Black community. Some of this stuff has never been talked about.”
“Our Clocktower is such an important piece of Rome,” Tilly added. “It doesn’t matter where you are in America from Washington to Alaska to Hawaii. If you see that clocktower you know that’s Rome, Georgia. It’s our symbol. It’s iconic.”