Did You Know?: Original Heavilon Hall clock installed in Gatewood Wing

October 20, 2011

In the atrium of the Roger B. Gatewood Wing, Galen King (left), professor of mechanical engineering and horologist, discusses the original Heavilon Hall clock with mechanical engineering students Jonathan VanBuskirk (center) and Keith Hoover. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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The original clock from old Heavilon Hall has been installed in the atrium of the Roger B. Gatewood Wing, just in time for the dedication of the wing on Friday (Oct. 21).

The clock, which was originally installed in Heavilon Hall -- Purdue's first mechanical engineering building -- is now the focal point of the atrium and student commons in the new wing of the current Mechanical Engineering Building. For the first time since 1956, the clock will be displayed in full working condition with new bells and the original 9-foot pendulum.

"The atrium was built around the clock," says Keith Hawks, building consultant for ME this year after his retirement as associate professor and assistant head of the department. "This clock spans time from 1896 to the present, and by continuing to showcase the clock on campus, we are keeping the history of the School of Mechanical Engineering alive."

After Heavilon Hall burned down four days after its 1894 dedication, a new building and tower were built the following year. Purchased with gifts from the Ladies' Matinee Musical of Lafayette and the class of 1895, the clock and chimes were installed in the new tower in 1896.

For nearly 60 years, the clock -- with four faces, each 7 feet in diameter -- and chimes hung in the Heavilon Hall tower. After demolition of the building in 1956, the clock and bells were placed in storage at Purdue.

In 1991, Jack Fessler, professor of veterinary clinical sciences, began restoring the clock. With assistance from Purdue machinists, new parts were made, old parts were repaired and each piece was cleaned and polished. The original decorative stenciling and painting was reproduced, and the refurbished clock was completed in 1994.

Fessler and campus administrators at the time began searching on campus for a place to display the clock including the large pendulum. The original bells were placed in the Purdue Bell Tower in 1995 and still remain there. The clock was put on static, nonworking display in the Material Sciences and Electrical Engineering Building in 1997 before it was removed to create space for Beans coffee shop in 2004.

The clock was moved to the ME building in 2005 until it was mounted to a wooden platform in the mechanical engineering machine shop five years later. There, the clock was set in motion for the first time in 54 years and was kept running until the installation last week.

"Since Heavilon Hall was demolished in 1956, words cannot describe the diligent effort and work of the many people who have kept the clock, the bells and the miscellaneous clock parts available for the moment of permanent installation," Hawks says.

Plans to place the working clock -- complete with pendulum and weights -- in the ME building have been under way since 1999, when it was decided an addition would be built. In preparation for its permanent installation, the clock's original plywood faces and hands were rebuilt from tempered glass and aluminum, respectively. Purdue Musical Organizations donated a collection of bells to be on display with the full clock. The clock will be restarted Friday (Oct. 21) for the official Gatewood Wing dedication.

"This clock truly symbolizes the history of Purdue and the School of Mechanical Engineering," Hawks says. "The entire atrium was designed to symbolize the history of mechanical engineering at Purdue. From 1896 until 1956, students would pass under the clock as they walked through the Heavilon Hall bell tower. Now, our current and future students will be able to experience that part of our history as they pass through the Roger B. Gatewood Wing."