LAWRENCE — Time takes its toll on everything, and clocks are no exception.

Even the massive, 111-year-old timepiece in the Ayer Mill Clock Tower in Lawrence can wear down, which is why it was disassembled last week and taken to Maine for repairs.

“The hands are in good shape, they’ve got to be painted,” said Linda Balzer of Balzer Family Clock Works in Freeport, Maine. “Some of the other things have to be machined. It’s wear and tear over the last 30 years.”

In addition, five panes of double-frosted glass need to be replaced, out of the 260 or so panes in the clock’s four dials.

“You have to have it specially made, sand-blasted on both sides,” said Balzer, whose company did an earlier restoration of the clock in 1991. “When we did the original restoration (in 1991), we ordered enough glass to have plenty for replacements, and that glass is in the tower in a crate.”

The clock was originally installed at the Ayer Mill in 1910 by The E. Howard Clock Company of Boston, and began operating on Oct. 3 of that year.

“This was the largest mill clock in the world at the time when it was put in,” Balzer said.

The Ayer Mill spun and dyed yarn for the neighboring Wood Mill, which then turned it into wool. When both mills closed in 1955, the clock stopped with them.

But a community campaign to re-start the clock raised $1 million in 1991, when Linda and Rick Balzer were first hired.

If the clock was once a symbol of Lawrence’s industrial might, it became a reminder of its decay after it stopped. But the restoration transformed the clock into an expression of hope for the city’s future.

The funds for that campaign were originally managed by the Merrimack Valley Community Foundation, which then merged with the Essex County Community Foundation in 2004, said Michelle Curran, a communications writer at the Essex County Community Foundation.

“Somewhere along the way, there was another fundraising campaign and the fund was established as a permanent endowment so the clock would be taken care of in perpetuity,” Curran wrote in an email.

The person now responsible for the clock’s routine maintenance, Chris Waites, took over the job from his father, Charles, who died this past April.

“I took it over because my father wanted me to,” Waites said. “I like doing it, because it’s almost like being around him.”

Father and son moved to Lawrence in 1995, but Charles grew up on Massachusetts Avenue in North Andover, and could see the motionless clock from his bedroom in back of the house.

“It was like, ‘somebody ought to do something about that,’” Waites said, referring to his father. “When he heard about the restoration, he jumped at the chance. He was a machinist.”

Now 45 and an electrician, Chris Waites started going up into the tower with his father when he was 15. He would oil pulleys, fix lighting that had burned out, “or I’d go out to the dials, because his balance wasn’t great.”

In 2020, Chris Waites noticed that strong winds had disabled the arms on the clock, which are driven by a system of counterweights. But COVID protocols kept him from entering the tower, and he had to wait several months before he could go back in to fix them.

“It’s been working fine up until four or five months ago,” Waites said. “But on the west dial, facing the dam, the hour hand was floating freely because something had broken inside.”

So the Balzers were contacted, and Waites spent four days recently helping them disassemble the whole clock, lowering pieces down through the tower.

“It’s funny, you don’t realize what it means to the city until one of the dials comes off, and someone calls,” he said.

But in the absence of the clock’s hands, and of its bell ringing the hours, people may still enjoy the lights that illuminate the clock’s faces from within.

Waites first put some LEDs in the tower in 2019, in a trial run that coincided with Iluminacion Lawrence, a program that brightened the city with lights and projections.

“It’s almost like stage lighting,” he said.

This spring, he installed the lights permanently along with some controls and, with help from a consultant, hooked them up to a computer, which turns the LEDs on at sunset and off at sunrise. Eventually, operation of the lights will be turned over to Groundwork Lawrence, an environmental organization.

“You can go over the computer, and control them on the web,” Waites said.

The Balzers’ repairs are expected to take around six months, and Waites said that helping to take the clock apart enhanced his understanding of its mechanics.

“You have to appreciate the history of it, too,” he said.

But what Waites still likes most about working on the clock, which he normally visits once or twice a week, is that it reminds him of his father.

“It almost feels like a family member that you have to make time for,” Waites said.

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