EUREKA — The courthouse bell hasn't rung the hour in years. The four-sided clock gives the time as 1:36.
Finally, after years of neglect, Woodford County might be nearing a fix of its busted courthouse clock tower.
"The bell is not going to fall through the floor this afternoon or anything like that," joked Sheriff Matt Smith on Thursday. "But it's a smart idea to get it fixed."
The Woodford County Courthouse was built in the center of Eureka in 1897. The clock tower, cupola and 2,000-pound solid bronze bell were placed atop the finished courthouse building in 1906. The bell was forged by Meneely & Co. of West Troy, N.Y. The clock was made and installed by the E. Howard Clock Co. of Boston. Both original pieces are still in place. Neither has worked reliably in a decade.
As sheriff, Smith is also, as he puts it, the "custodian of the courthouse."
"I don't actually empty the wastebaskets," he said. "But if they are not emptied, I'm going to hear about it."
It is that job description that places the responsibility of clock tower's upkeep squarely in Smith's lap.
"It came to my attention that something bad was happening up there," he said.
The hands on the four clock faces are frozen in time. Local clock expert Paul Gangloff switched the clockworks over from mechanical to electrical almost 60 years ago, but now even the modernized system has mostly stopped working. The one-ton bell is housed in a cradle of rotted wooden beams and fixed in place by a rusted head bolt. The entire tower, thought to be listing to one side several years ago, is shored up by an obstacle course of metal braces. Repairs have been considered through the years, then forgotten.
"There are bell towers that are inspected every year," Smith said. "We weren't doing that."
Local businessman Jerry Smith, who also serves as the chairman of the Woodford County Zoning Board, approached county officials last summer.
"What can we do to get the clocks working again?" he asked.
Experts from Verdin Clock Co. in Cincinnati were called in to inspect the clock and bell and to create a laundry list of necessary repairs — from "this can wait" to "you're probably going to want to do something about this now."
The total cost for the rehab job was estimated at about $46,000. The bell fix was considered a safety item, while the clock fix was considered more cosmetic — something that would be nice but not necessary. Sheriff Smith found some money in the budget when the county received a grant to remove asbestos from a building, freeing up an amount that would cover the cost of the bell repair. He hopes to raise the rest in the community to pay to get the clocks up and running.
"Ideally we'd like to raise the money to fix the clock at the same time the bell is getting shored up," Jerry Smith said Thursday. "But we're really just getting started with that."
He's looking to raise money from local businesses mostly, but is also encouraging smaller, private donations. Anyone wishing to donate to the clock fund can make checks out to the Woodford County treasurer, Smith said.
Matt Smith said the county has paid the first half of its down payment, a little more than $12,000, and that the project is on Verdin's schedule.
"We're hoping this spring," Matt Smith said. "I'm really looking forward to hearing that bell ring again."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.