Exploring the Academy Place Clock Tower
Our last Hidden Corning feature took you to a long-forgotten second story on Market Street. This time we’re going higher.
As you’re all probably well aware by this time, the former Corning Free Academy building has been transformed from a middle school into an apartment complex. In the process, the developer preserved many of the historic features of the building’s original architecture. My previous tour of the complex concentrated mainly on the apartments being built – and so remained largely confined to the public areas and individual units residents would inhabit.
However, I began to wonder about one of the building’s most striking features: the clock tower. In particular, I was curious about the bell that hung at the very top of the tower. That curiosity grew into mild obsession when I received this photo from a friend and early resident of Academy Place.
I had to get up there and see this for myself so I contacted Academy Place’s Leasing Manager, Andrew Gregory, for an official tour. Well, there’s no such thing as an official tour… but Andrew was kind enough to light the way with his iPhone flashlight as we wound through narrow corridors and up precarious steps.
As soon as we left the clean confines of the building’s public stairwell, it was apparent the tower had remained untouched for quite some time. The bell had been my original target of interest, but a couple of levels before we reached the top of the tower, I found something even more fascinating.
As you can clearly see from outside, each of the tower’s sides has its own clock face. I had not given much thought to what might be behind those clocks until I laid eyes on one 1923 Seth Thomas Clock Company mechanical mechanism. Each of the four tower clocks was (at one time) slaved to this apparatus – which has its own little clock display. Fanning out from this master clock is a system of geared driveshafts – each responsible for connecting to and accurately driving its own exterior clock. I have no idea when this whole clock system was last functioning, but since all four clock faces currently read a different time, it’s pretty obvious they don’t work anymore.
It was also obvious that the system was converted to run off electricity (versus being spring wound by hand, perhaps?) on October 26th, 1958. Obvious because that’s exactly what was written on the brick wall next to it. Several other notes about various inspections and restorations were also handwritten and dated on the surrounding bricks. Cool stuff.
The bell at the top of the tower was no let down, nor was the view. Though you have to look through the wire mesh that keeps pigeons out, it offers a great perspective on our city.
I don’t know a lot about bells, but this is a pretty good-sized one. And thanks to local architect Elise Johnson-Schmidt, I know that it’s fifty inches in diameter, weighs 2 tons, and was forged in 1873 by the Meneely Foundry in West Troy, NY. What’s that you say? The Corning Free Academy building was built in 1922? Very true. In fact, the bell originally hung in the old OLD middle school – which stood a block away from the more recent CFA site. The bell was moved to the present building “by heavy sledge” – and along with other artifacts – repurposed as part of the new school.
It’s just darn cool. And though the electric mechanism that used to work the bell has seen better days, Andrew once again obliged and triggered it by hand a few times for me. You can see and hear it here. No one came running out of their apartment to change classes, but I can assure you the bell is pretty loud and has a great tone.
If you’d like to live beneath this bell and it’s clock tower, there are still a few apartments open in Academy Place. Enjoy the rest of the pics and send us a note if you have an idea for a Hidden Corning feature.