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Babylon Village clock, now 144 years old, in need of new caretaker to watch over maintenance

Judy Skillen, a member of the Babylon Historical

Judy Skillen, a member of the Babylon Historical Society and the First Presbyterian church in Babylon Village, poses for a portrait in front of the clock tower of the church, May 11, 2015. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

The Babylon Village clock, housed high in the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street for 144 years, is without a municipal caretaker for the first time in recent memory.

Church and village officials say they are unlikely to find another. Instead, the village-owned clock was given to the church earlier this month, and church officials say they may install an electric motor to power its hands, which have not moved in months.

The gift comes after the retirement this spring of Chris Cullen, a building superintendent in Manhattan who was the fourth clock custodian in 75 years or more and was paid $2,500 a year by the village for winding and basic maintenance.

"He said he was just too busy," Village Mayor Ralph Scordino said. "It was catching up with him."

Cullen did not respond to a request for comment.

Scordino and Judy Skillen, a church deacon, said they knew of no other job candidates with Cullen's skill set, which included mechanical sophistication and daring to climb two successive rickety wooden ladders to reach the clock.

"We don't know how to do it," Skillen said. "The art was gone when this man retired."

The clock is cast iron and oak with a calibrated collection of brass gears and regulating dials inside. A tag identifies its manufacturer as A.S. Hotchkiss, a well-regarded Connecticut artisan.

Newspaper accounts indicate that residents raised more than $650 for its purchase and installation in April 1871.

Babylon Town would not incorporate for another year; Babylon Village would not incorporate until 1893. Newspaper accounts from that era suggest the clock -- which presented "quite an imposing appearance to close observers, and elicits much attention from strangers" -- was an object of civic pride.

Thousands of tower and street clocks across the nation were electrified after World War II, said Chuck Roeser, who owns a clock repair shop outside Buffalo and has done restoration jobs on Long Island and around the country.

Electrification streamlines maintenance and eliminates the need for clock custodians. Scordino said that if it does happen in Babylon Village, he would insist that the original clockworks be maintained. But Roeser said electrification would be a "heartbreaker" and a "shame."

Approximately 100 Hotchkiss tower clocks once dotted the nation; a few dozen might survive, he said. Properly maintained, he said, they can work for centuries; "all it takes is a little maintenance and one person to wind them."

Roeser suggested a middle path, the installation of an automatic winder. The clock would still need regular maintenance, but no one would have to climb into the steeple to wind it, he said. The cost of installation was difficult to estimate, he said, but could be cheaper than electrification, which would cost thousands of dollars for each of the clock's four faces.

Skillen said church officials will consider Roeser's suggestion. "We do appreciate the history of the clock," she said.


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