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Historic clock coming from Michigan to Monessen

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 12:22 a.m.

After standing in another state for nearly 100 years, a Brown Street Clock is returning home to the Mid-Mon Valley.

The rare timepiece, thought to be manufactured around 1910 in either Monessen or Donora, will be brought into town at noon Monday, according to Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith.

The city will place the clock in storage for the winter. It will eventually be up and running either in the 200 block of Donner Avenue or along Third Street, the central location of the Midtown Redevelopment Project.

A similar clock once stood at 532 Donner Ave. more than a century ago.

“I don't know how quickly we'll get this Third Street corridor open, so the other option is the grassy area by the police station,” Smith said.

“I'd like to get it close to the original location. We don't want to put it up and take it down. We'll have it here at least and – with a little more of collection of funds – finally have it back here where it belongs.”

Smith said the city will pay collector Steve Schmidt of Corunna, Mich., at least half the $15,000 price tag as a deposit. The money was raised solely through public and private donations.

“We have commitments from a few people who haven't sent the money yet,” Smith said. “A lot of our donations were smaller, but from citizens who were happy to see this happen. (Schmidt) is a trusting soul, and he's been very anxious to get it back here to Monessen.”

Schmidt will haul the clock – currently in three pieces – free of charge. He said the clock weighs around 1,200 pounds and comprises the clock head, the “topper” that acts as a crown, and the post and base, which he will haul on a boat trailer.

“I'd rather do it now than in February, when there might be a snowstorm,” Schmidt said of the seven-hour, 400-mile trek. “I'm just buying the gas. I'm retired, so we're just going to drive out and back in one day. It'll be a long day, but worth it.”

The Brown Street Clock Co. opened in 1906. Jeweler Benjamin Eli Brown partnered with his brother, Walter, and the booming business was split between Monessen and Donora.

In the early 1920s, the brothers both died of pneumonia within two years of each other, and the company ceased operation in the early 1930s.

Schmidt said his clock was located outside a jewelry store in Travers City, Mich., for nearly 60 years. That store, owned by F.A. Earl, was in business from the 1880s. He thinks the clock's base may have been manufactured at a larger foundry, such as the Old Radiator Works in West Newton.

Schmidt visited the city more than 10 years ago to find the original location of Brown's jewelry store, and was bothered when he saw no street clocks remaining in the area. He has documented a little more than two dozen other Brown Street Clocks known to still exist.

“It'd be nice if I could find receipts to find out the year of this one,” said Schmidt, a clock historian with a website dedicated to Brown Street Clocks at “Somewhere in the Traverse City newspaper, it might say a clock was installed in front of F.A. Earl, but you'd have to research those old newspapers, and I don't know how you could go about that. The online archives are kind of spotty.”

Along with the clock, Schmidt will bring Smith and company a black and white photo from 1940 of the clock in downtown Traverse City.

“I've found earlier pictures of the clock, but it's kind of neat to see that same clock with 1920s cars and then, 1940s cars parked next to it,” he said. “When you think of what that clock has seen … and it's still working, that's what's amazing to me.”

Smith said the clock will serve as a valuable reminder of what Monessen once was – and what it could be again.

“It brings back some of our history and a reminder of when we were a bustling town,” she said. “I'm happy there's an interest. It's a nice, visible start to our cultural district.”

Schmidt, who will be moving to Seattle next summer, hopes to return to Monessen when the battery-operated clock is standing and keeping time in its birthplace.

“When you think of what that clock has seen … and it's still working after all those years in cold weather, that's what's amazing to me,” he said. “I think when you have kids walk up to it and say, ‘Wow, this thing is that old?' It will be a key piece for the city, that's what I think.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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