The Clocks of Downtown Champaign
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
The story of Downtown Champaign's three street clocks.
Businesses have always looked for ways to stand out among the competition but just after the turn of the 20th century a new method of attracting business emerged on the streets of many downtown's. In 1906 a new company, the Brown Street Clock Company in Monossen, PA, began to fabricate their "high grade" cast iron street clocks at a lower price point than more expensive clock makers.
Their ads began appearing in Swartchild & Company of Chicago catalogs. This was a major jewelers supply company throughout the Midwest and led to the natural partnership between these street clocks and jewelers and clocksmiths.
The company offered eight options in this 1923 catalog.
Three Downtown Champaign Street Clocks
Based on all available records and photographic evidence, there has been three Downtown Champaign street clocks. They were all erected sometime between 1912 and 1916 and only one remains today.
5 Main Street (Clock #1)
Likely erected around 1912 by Thomas H. Craig
Ferguson and Craig Jewelers was owned by Thomas H. Craig, jeweler, optometrist, and watch and clock repairer and his partner Wm. I. Ferguson. They had moved their business to 5 Main St. from the Walker Opera House on North Neil Street between 1902 and 1904.
In January 1911, Ferguson and Craig's business relationship was dissolved and T.H. Craig carried on under the business name T.H. Craig. It is believe that around this time of transition was when the first Downtown Clock was installed on the north side of Main Street just outside 5 Main Street. The image above represents the earliest known photograph of the clock taken sometime around 1911-1912. Note that the business sign still reflects the Ferguson and Craig name but the clock crown lists T.H. Craig. The fact that the clock only reflects the businesses name used only after the dissolution in January 1911 indicates that this photo was taken just after that event and before the old signage could be removed from the store.
T. H. Craig remained at 5 Main St. until 1929 or 1930 until another jeweler named Alfred H. Bowman assumed management of the space for approximately two years. The image below was likely taken around 1931. By this time the signage on the business had been changed to Alfred H. Bowman.
The street clock crown had also been changed to reflect the new management.
By 1932, A.H. Bowman moved his shop to 11 Main Street and the clock is removed from the street shortly thereafter. No photographs from the 1940s show the clock on Main Street.
14 Main Street (Clock #2)
Likely erected around 1915 by A.E. Wuesteman
A second clock shows up on Main Street around the same time as the clock at T.H. Craig. This clock was erected by a popular local jeweler named A.E. Wuesteman and placed outside his store on the south side of Main Street at 14 Main Street. Wuesteman had opened his store in 1897.
This clock appears to be another Brown Street Clock Company clock. It bears a striking resemblance to the clock seen in this 1910 advertisement.
Note the transition to the fluted column and the decorative flourishing crown on the top.
These postcards below are the only know images that shows both clocks in the same field of view. The colorized postcard is dated between 1913 and 1915.
This black and white postcard is likely from a period between 1915 and 1924.
Wuesteman later joined Buck Wallace and the store was renamed Wuesterman-Wallace.
In 1940, Milton John Reed purchased the business but Mr. Wuesterman remained on staff until 1949. The business was then renamed M.J. Reed Jewelers and is still in businesses as of 2019. However, there is no evidence the this clock survived past 1931.
110 North Neil Street (Clock #3)
Erected January 1916 by Joseph C. Bowman
The final clock added to downtown was located at the northeast corner of Neil and Chester Streets. During the devastating W. Lewis & Company fire on March 17, 1915, fire jumped Neil Street and gutted the entire building at building at 110 - 120 North Neil Street leaving just the buildings facade.
Within the year, the building was reconstructed within the existing wall and Joseph C. Bowman opened his new Jewelry store in the corner storefront at 110 North Neil Street. On January 26, 1916, the following ad appeared in the Urbana Daily Courier advertising that their new street clock had just been installed.
The new clock was another Brown Street Clock Company clock.
The new Bowman clock matches model 13402 from the 1915 Swartchild catalog (below).
Bowman was succeeded in 1929 by jeweler Carl W. Mouch, who remained at 110 North Neil Street until 1945.
Spritz Jewelers, a jewelry company based in Terre Haute, Indiana and started in 1922 by brothers-in-laws and partners, J.B. Greenfield and Irvine S. Spritz expanded their business to Champaign in 1946 and moved into the storefront at 110 North Neil Street. They assumed ownership of the clock and made slight modifications by adding a new neon lighted crown with the company name.
In 1973 the store moved to 215 N. Neil St and moved the clock with them.
However, in October 1973 work was beginning on the new Neil Street Pedestrian mall and so the clock was installed across the street from the new store at the southeast corner of Neil and Main Street. The Neil Street Pedestrian Mall was officially opened on May 2-10, 1975. At this time the Spritz name was removed from the clock.
During this move, it appears a new clock face was added that changed from Roman to Arabic numerals.
In 1986, the City of Champaign removed the Downtown Pedestrian Mall and reopened Neil Street to traffic. The clock was once again moved slightly to the new sidewalk space outside of 2 Main Street.
In 1997, Spritz owner, Jim Greenfield donated the clock to the City of Champaign. Around this time the inner working of the clock were overhauled by Verdin Clock Company of Cincinnati and the mechanical timekeeping controls were removed.
In 2007, the clock was suffered from very poor timekeeping and the City removed the clock head and inner workings and undertook repairs to correct the electronic controllers. The clock was reinstalled on April 13, 2007.
Just over a year later, on the night of April 20, 2008, the clock was severely damaged when it was hit by an automobile that jumped a curb and veered off of Neil Street. The clock did manage to stop the vehicle before it impacted the popular restaurant/bar in 2 Main Street and groups of outdoor tables.
It seemed as though the clock would never stand again but thanks to the City of Champaign Planning Department and Public Works Department work soon began on the repair of the clock. Cain's Marine Welding was hired to repair the broken cast iron and restore the clock.
The clock was reinstalled on November 3, 2008.
Just five days later on November 8, 2008, the clock was nearly destroyed again, when the Metropolitan Building burned to the ground in the most intense and devastating Downtown fire since the One Main fire in 1986.
While there was damage from the intense heat all around the building, the clock survived the fire.
Seven days after the fire on November 15, 2008, Mayor Jerry Schweighart officially cut a ribbon to commemorate the fully restored clock.
Today, more that 100 years later, the sole surviving Downtown clock stands proudly at the corner of Main and Neil as it continues to mark the slow but steady march of time and progress.
Special thanks to: