The Gazette Interview with the Hammonton Town Clock
Publisher’s note: All right, we all know clocks don’t talk, so use your imagination and have some fun with this interview with the newly-restored Hammonton Town Clock, which returned to Hammonton on March 2. Much of the clock’s responses were informed by the “Town Clock” chapter of the book Hammonton Through the Eyes of J.G. Wilson, which was published 25 years ago by the Hammonton Middle School Library Aides advised by Wilson’s daughter, former HMS Librarian (and Gazette columnist) Donna Brown.
Gabe Donio: Welcome back to Hammonton.
Town Clock: Thank you. It feels great to be back. I feel like I left town in a shabby old suit and came back in a tuxedo.
GD: You certainly have been completely revitalized. What’s your favorite part of the $100,000-plus restoration effort that transformed you?
TC: Everything’s brighter. New paint, new parts, brighter LED lights at night, and of course, all that gold leaf on me. It just makes you feel special to know that people cared enough to make it all happen.
GD: Give me a little bit of history. How did you get to this point? You came to Hammonton in 1929 at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Central Avenue, next to what was then The People’s Bank and is now Wells Fargo, about where the Reagan Rock is now, right?
TC: Right. But remember, I was the second clock at that corner. Sometime in early 1922 or maybe sooner, the board of directors of The People’s Bank agreed the corner needed something and a big town clock might be the answer. So that first clock was on the corner until 1928, when a car struck it in November of 1928, according to an article in The Hammonton News back then.
GD: So the bank ordered you as a replacement for the damaged clock?
TC: Exactly. In fact, there was an article in the March 29, 1929 issue of The Hammonton News that reported that the old clock was replaced with an exact duplicate of the original clock, and local jeweler and watchmaker David B. Bellamy supervised the new clock’s installation.
GD: You’re a Seth Thomas post street clock, one of only a handful left running in the United States, and certainly one of the few to be fully restored by a community-wide effort. Is that all a point of pride for you?
TC: It is. Seth Thomas is a great name in the world of clocks, particularly in my era. It gives me an enormous amount of pride to be a symbol of the town of Hammonton.
GD: All the attention doesn’t bother you? You’ve been the logo of The Gazette’s Our Town section for decades, the subject of a Christmas ornament by the Soroptimists, featured on the cover of Hammonton Through the Eyes of J.G. Wilson and of course used as the logo for the Hammonton Sesquicentennial in 2016.
TC: It doesn’t bother me. I love the limelight, being center stage. When you’ve been in the center of town as long as I have, you’re used to being the center of attention.
GD: So you welcome being a symbol?
TC: I do. It’s been a long road to this point, and one way or another, generations of Hammontonians or people just passing through have used me to tell time, as a landmark or as a meeting place. During the decades, I think because I’ve been downtown for nearly a century, people began to count on me as something that had been there, and would be there.
GD: I have often compared Hammontonians’ relationship to the Hammonton Town Clock to New Yorkers’ relationship to the Statue of Liberty.
TC: That’s high praise for a humble town clock. But I’ll tell you: I feel like people wouldn’t give so much to something they didn’t love. I know it made me feel loved. The members of the Hammonton Town Clock Committee: Co-chairs Bob Schenk and John Runfolo, Dan Bachalis, Susan Coan, Dorothy Orlandini, Harry Stafford and Monica Wuillermin all deserve the accolades. And I’ll never forget every dollar that people donated to restore me.
GD: You’re pretty passionate about Hammonton and Hammontonians.
TC: I’m their town clock. They wanted me so much that in 1963, when the bank wanted to ship me to Fred and Ethel Noyes in Smithville, then-Mayor Alex Wetherbee announced I would be “returning” to Hammonton, even though I never actually left town. I was moved to my current location on the triangular spot bordered by Central Avenue, Vine Street and Third Street in 1965 after being dropped in 1964 when a cable of a crane snapped and I was badly damaged. That wasn’t a great day for me, but when I started running again on April 1, 1965 it was a much better day.
GD: You’ve seen a lot in your decades in downtown, haven’t you?
TC: I watched the downtown rise, fall and rise again. Hammonton High School became Hammonton Middle School, then St. Joseph High School and now, St. Joseph Academy. The town hall and library were demolished and a new town hall was built. Mayors and school board presidents have come and gone, and I’ve seen the styles and fashions change, businesses and technology change and generations of Hammontonians walk and drive by me over the decades.
GD: What do you take away from all that time in town, if you’ll pardon the pun?
TC: Hammonton is not like any other place. I’m proud to now wear its name four times, once over each clock face. It felt weird to leave town after so many years, even though I knew I would come back better than ever. It felt like time flew—now it’s my turn for a pun—from when I left Hammonton on September 17, 2020 to when I returned on March 2, 2021. It feels like that old line from The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”
GD: It’s a pleasure to see you back in town. You truly are an iconic symbol of Hammonton. Let’s leave on a light note. Are you on any social media?
TC: These days, I’m mostly on TikTok, like everyone else. It just makes sense for me, as a clock, I mean.
GD: Thanks for giving this interview.
TC: You’re welcome—and thanks again to everyone who made my restoration possible. It’s really a dream come true.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.