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  • Writer's pictureTJ Blakeman

The Clocks of Downtown Champaign

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

The story of Downtown Champaign's three street clocks.

110 North Neil Street - An early image of the last remaining clock.

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

Main Street looking east from Neil Street. 5 Main Street clock in lower left. Courtsey of Charles Cassad

North side of Main Street looking east from Neil Street circa 1912

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.

Enlargement of the previous image showing the Ferguson & Craig name on the building but only T.H. Craig is listed on the clock.

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.

Advertisement published in the Urbana Daily Courier January 4, 1911 announcing the dissolution of the Ferguson & Craig partnership.

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.

Main Street looking east from Neil Street circa 1931. Photo Courtesy of the Thomas Wiley Collection at the Champaign County History Museum.

The street clock crown had also been changed to reflect the new management.

An enlargement of the previous photo showing that the crown has been replaced to list Albert H. Bowman as the owner of the clock.

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.

Aftermath of the St. Patrick's Day Fire in 1915. 110-120 North Neil Street was gutted with only its walls standing.

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.

110-120 North Neil Street circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Sholem Family Collection at the Champaign County History Museum.

An enlargement of the previous photo shows the present day clock standing on the corner of Chester and Neil Street. Note the words painted on the side panels of the lower pedestal.

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.

View of Neil Street looking south from Park Street. The clock is viable in front of the original City Building on the left side of the image. Photo courtesy of the Champaign County History Museum.

An enlargement of the previous image shows some kind of box added to the lower pedestal, perhaps for advertisement.

Neil Street looking north from Chester Street. W. Lewis and Company Department Store stood across the street from the clock. In this photo, the clock has been decorated for Christmas.

An enlargement of the previous image shows the lower cabinet was painted white and listed products sold by Mouch..

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.

Image of 110 North Neil Street after Spritz Jewelers occupied the space in 1946. Note the neon sign added to the top of the clock. Photo courtesy of Spritz Jewelers.

A view of North Neil Street circa 1970, shortly before the street was closed for the Neil Street Pedestrian Mall. Note the large advertisement on the roof of 110 North Neil Street.

In 1973 the store moved to 215 N. Neil St and moved the clock with them.

Spritz moved further north to a new home at 215 North Neil Street. Construction has begun on the Neil Street Pedestrian Mall. Spritz eventually moved to 205 North Neil Street (Walgreens location in this image)

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.

Neil Street looking south from Main Street during the time of the Downtown Pedestrian Mall.

During this move, it appears a new clock face was added that changed from Roman to Arabic numerals.

Neil Street looking south from Main Street.

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.

Neil Street looking north toward Main Street (2 Main in the foreground) shortly after Neil Street was reopened to traffic.

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.

The Downtown Clock around the time of its donation to the City of Champaign.

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.

City of Champaign Public Works Crews reinstall the clock following its upgrades.

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.

Image of the damaged clock on April 20, 2008. Photo taken by T.J. Blakeman

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.

John Cobble (L) and Paul Cain (R) from Cain's Marine Welding pose with the restored clock head.

Pieces of the clock undergoing restoration at Cain's Marine Welding following the April 20, 2008 car accident.

The clock was reinstalled on November 3, 2008.

This photo was taken on the day of the clock's re-installation. Note the Metropolitan Building on the left. This building was destroyed five days later by a massive fire.

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.

Metropolitan Building fire. Note the clock standing in close proximity to the blaze. Many street objects around the building were destroyed but the clock withstood the incredible temperatures. Photo courtesy of the News-Gazette.

While there was damage from the intense heat all around the building, the clock survived the fire.

Aftermath of the fire shows the clock still standing at the corner of Neil and Main Street.

Seven days after the fire on November 15, 2008, Mayor Jerry Schweighart officially cut a ribbon to commemorate the fully restored clock.

Mayor Jerry Schweighart cutting the ribbon with City staff and Champaign Downtown Association Representatives present.

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.

Inscription on the clock base indicating the Brown Street Clock Co. as the manufacturer of the clock.

Special thanks to:

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