Irwin officials work with new building owner to preserve historic clock

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 4:30 p.m.

Irwin officials are working with a new building owner to preserve a landmark century-old clock that keeps time for downtown visitors.

The clock tower, which is part of the three-story McWilliams Building on Main Street in downtown Irwin, recently was sold to a new owner. Borough officials are hoping to complete an agreement for access to the tower for maintenance.

“We (had) an arrangement that the clock committee and (previous) owner would allow access to the clock for maintenance,” Mary Benko, Irwin manager, said. “There is some maintenance to the clock mechanism itself.”

The clock tower, located on the roof of the brick building, was constructed in 1905. Although many clock towers have been converted to electric operation, the Irwin clock tower has not.

Jim Drylie, 88, has become an unofficial caretaker of the clock tower. He was part of the clock's original committee in 1993 and has continued to do simple maintenance, such as oiling the gears and changing burned-out light bulbs necessary for nighttime illumination.

“I think anything that is that old and can be restored is worth fixing if it can be done,” Drylie said.

Drylie credits Jack Keck, a trained clock artisan with a shop in Madison, for refurbishing the clock in 1992. By that point, the clock had been out of commission for about 50 years, and Keck was able to shot-blast built-up grime from the three clock faces and get the mechanical parts moving again.

Over the years, the pair would check on the clock. They would climb to the tower to adjust the time during fall and spring changes and jump-start it when it became so cold that the oil thickened and prevented the clock handles from moving.

“He didn't want the people who went to church the next day to see the clock wasn't working,” Drylie said. “The clock would have to be reset, and you have to know what you're doing.”

Irwin officials paid homage to the historical clock tower in 2010 by making it part of the borough logo.

Officials used some money from a $1.9 million state grant for beautification projects to print the clock on its borough sign, letterhead and documents.

“Back then, for a lot of people it would have been their only means of knowing the time,” Drylie said. “It's more of oddity now. There aren't many towns that have a clock tower.”

The light bulbs need to be replaced every other year, and the clock faces soon will need a new coat of paint, Drylie said.

The clock committee plans to meet with Larry Cole, the building's new owner, over the next month to complete an agreement allowing access into the building for maintenance.

Cole, who also owns a security- and electronic-system company in Murrysville, said the clock tower attracted him to purchasing the brick building on Main Street. He said he will work with the board to provide access.

“I think that any piece of history is important to maintain,” he said. “Somebody made a special effort to build something like that. It's nice to preserve that.”

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.

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