The Johnson County Courthouse bell and clock have been tolling and chiming away since 1883.
Now both pieces of history have been renewed for the next generation by Smith’s Bell, a Camby-based company. The project to modernize the clock and bell is part of a larger slate of work that the Johnson County Commissioners have been undertaking at the 144-year-old landmark.
Part of the courthouse project is to repair the clock tower following strong storms that blew into Franklin the same night as tornados struck Whiteland and rural Bargersville on March 31. However, other parts are routine maintenance undertaken as part of the commissioners’ mission to preserve the courthouse and its grounds for the next generation, said Brian Baird, county commissioner.
About the project
A lot of work has been going on at the courthouse, including laying new sidewalks, repairing the long-broken fountain, cleaning the monuments, painting white trim, installing a second ADA-compliant entrance to the courthouse basement and more. More work is yet to come including installing a new drain for the fountain, updating courthouse windows, and adding white window trim to restore their historic character, Baird said.
Some of the storm damage has already repaired already while more work is yet to come. So far, two of the lattice-covered windows in the clock tower that were blown out by the storm have been replaced. It is taking longer to get the metal parts needed to repair the other windows because it all has to be custom ordered, Baird said.
The work might not be done until spring, but if conditions are right and the parts come in, it could be fixed this winter, he said. In the meantime, the windows are boarded up tightly and the clock tower is secure from the elements.
“No. 1, it will be weather-contingent. We’re starting to get into bad weather. But the biggest contingency is the time it takes to produce,” Baird said.
The courthouse clock sustained damage from the storm, but the bell did not. However, both were modernized with technology upgrades to keep the historic pieces going for future generations, Baird said.
Both are controlled by a computer and hooked up to the courthouse WiFi to keep both of them on time automatically. Before technology advanced, county employees had to climb up many stairs to ring the bell and up a tall, steep ladder to reset the clock.
The new clock faces are UV-resistant acrylic instead of glass so they will be more durable and light up better at night. The new hands are also designed to break away in high winds, said J.J. Smith, president of Smith’s Bell.
Color-changeable LED lights were also installed around the clock. These are also controlled by computer and can be changed to recognize holidays, Smith said. For example, the lights were green for several days around Veteran’s Day.
All of the work relating to storm damage is being paid for by the county’s insurance company, Baird said.
Work on the sidewalks and other items is contracted for up $315,000 and about $243,000 has been spent so far, Baird said. Work on the bell and clock cost little more than $49,300. The work is funded with a General Obligation bond, or GO bond.
Into the future
Both pieces of county history have had updates over time to add electrical elements to make it easier for county employees to operate them. As time has gone on, it has become harder to find people who can do the specialized maintenance that both need, said Jason Miller, county maintenance director.
When county officials found Smith’s Bell, a Camby-based company that maintains and manufactures bells and clocks, they saw an opportunity to take the clock and bell into the future.
When he climbed up inside the clock tower, Smith was surprised to see the historic clockwork still fully intact.
“The old clock mechanism that is up there, that dates back to the 1800s. I guess what separates it from any other Indiana courthouse — it’s probably the oldest one, I think — that I’ve seen that is still remaining in the courthouse,” he said.
The clockwork still remains in the tower, though it is no longer in use. Smith’s team installed an electronic master clock that keeps time and automatically keeps the clock right on time as long as the courthouse has power and internet. The team also installed an electromagnetic bell striker that works the same way.
Not just with the bell and clock, but with the whole courthouse, Baird and the other commissioners are striving to keep the historic character while maintaining the buildings to modern standards.
“We just want to keep it the look. I want people to look up from the street and say ‘Hey, this looks like the courthouse,’” Baird said. “We have to modernize, we have to maintain.”
Other building projects
There’s not just work going on at the courthouse, several county buildings are seeing work, a joint health department and coroner’s office building is under construction and more projects are planned in the coming years, Baird said.
The Johnson County Animal Shelter, the West Annex, community corrections, the jail, Hoosier Horse Park and the Johnson County Park all have work planned or have been recently completed. Streets have been repaved and drainage work is set for the Johnson County Fairgrounds, he said.
The West Annex recently was repainted and sealed and there are plans to install a more protective awning that would extend over the wheelchair-accessible ramp into the building, he said.
More about building projects at the park and community corrections will be reported by the Daily Journal in the future.