When will the clock strike?

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The question is how many times a day will it strike?

Town Manager David Holt told selectmen at their Thursday, April 7 meeting that the striker in the clock in the historic downtown Norway Opera House is being fixed to strike, but concerns have been raised by at least one neighbor that the round-the-clock striking of the bell is too much.

TOO LOUD? — A number of apartments are housed under the shadow of the Norway Opera House clock tower which may or may not strike again on a 24/7 basis.
TOO LOUD? — A number of apartments are housed under the shadow of the Norway Opera House clock tower which may or may not strike again on a 24/7 basis.

Holt told the board that Jim Bryant of Wayne – who has maintained the clock for years – has been asked to repair the striker that until a few years ago struck at the hour every hour. The $200 to $400 cost will repair the striker, but another $300 to $500 will be necessary to restrict its usage.

Bryant – who had the bell operating on solar power for a while – told the Advertiser Democrat that when he went to set the clock on daylight savings time last month, he discovered a malfunction. He surmised it’s probably caused by age and the problem is with the apparatus to make the bell strike.

Once the striker is operation again, probably in a few weeks, a decision will be made on how many hours the striker will strike.

“Some Main Street folks say it’s pretty loud,” Holt said.

Erica Jed, owner of Books N Things at 430 Main St., doesn’t mince words when asked about what she thinks about the clock tower that looms over her head.

“I hate it,” Jed said of the noise that she says prevents her from talking on the telephone, reading or watching television and causes her dog to bark.

Jed said she understands years ago that when many people didn’t have watches, they depended on the bell to tell them the time. But today, that isn’t an issue, it simply is an annoyance.

Jed said she wishes someone would measure the decibel of the bell – they might find it’s not even below the legal limit, she said.

Not all agree.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Mike Mann, who lives in the downtown area.

The Norway Opera House isn’t the only clanger in town. The nearby First  Universalist Church on Main Street also has a bell tower with striking bell that  strikes at noontime each day.

The town of Norway doesn’t own the Norway Opera House, but it does own the right to maintain the clock in the building’s tower through an easement with the owners – the Norway Opera House Corporation.

The bell stopped working in 2007 when a partial roof collapse at the Norway Opera House cut electrical power to the building and forced the first-floor businesses out, Bryant said.

The building had remained vacant since then, but Bryant, 81, and town officials found a way to keep the clock ticking by “borrowing” power from the adjacent former Woodman’s sporting goods store. A 110-volt temporary electrical wire was strung from that building to the clock tower four stories above it.

It let the clock run on AC power until recent years when Bryant said something fried the motor.

A decision was made to change the bell striker to solar operation. Then Bryant believes that someone checking the roof accidentially broke a wire and it stopped operating.

Not everyone was unhappy about it.

The three-story brick building is the centerpiece of the downtown historic district and is on the list of Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Properties. The building and its imposing clock tower were built in 1894 by the Norway Building Association and bought by the town in 1920.

Concerts, minstrel shows, ballroom dances, plays, movies, high school graduations and town meetings were held on the upper floors and small businesses operated on the first.

It had a succession of private owners after the town sold it in the mid-1970s. The upper floors have been unused for about 30 years. The storefronts had not been occupied since the roof partially collapsed in September 2007 under the weight of water.

The resulting damage and the owner’s failure to adequately stabilize the building led the town to take it by eminent domain when it was deemed a public safety hazard.

Then the town gave it to the Norway Opera House Corporation, which renovated and rented the first floor retail spaces and made it into a thriving part of the downtown business scene.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net