EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 18, 2010

Ayer Mill clock tower, a Lawrence icon, turns 100

LAWRENCE — It was a towering icon of American industry, a ringing symbol of the working class in this city and across the nation for half a century.

By the late 1950s it had become something else: a crumbling relic of Lawrence's vanishing glory and a 267-foot-high roost for generations of pigeons that left behind tons of droppings during the four decades they had the run of the place.

The city still struggles, but a million-dollar restoration brought back the Ayer Mill clock tower in 1991.

On Oct. 3, it turns 100.

"The local people, by making that investment in the tower, (showed) their desire and endeavor to change the direction of Lawrence," said David Tory of the Essex County Community Foundation, the successor of

the company that took possession of the tower as part of the renovation. "It was a message to the world: We want Lawrence to come back, and an indication of ato refurbish its most obvious landmark."

The clock tower's 4,850-pound copper and tin bell first pealed across the Merrimack River valley at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3, 1910, when mill owner Frederick Ayer pulled the rope nine times to signal bedtime to his hundreds of employees. At a celebration on Oct. 3, Charlie Waites, the keeper of the clock, will pull the rope 100 times to mark each year in the tower's centennial, although the peals will come from a replica of the original bell that was manufactured in the Netherlands for $36,000 as part of the 1991 restoration. The original bell disappeared after the mill closed, possibly melted for scrap or sent downriver to serve another tower.

If the bell is a replica, the 2,000 pounds of brass and cast-iron that make up the clockworks are original. The works, which include a 14.5-foot pendulum that powers the springs and gears, along with the four transparent faces of the clock and the tower's copper roof, were the major parts of the $1 million renovation.

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