The clock tower doesn’t garner much attention from students these days. In the era of cell phones, students have other ways to check the time.Positioned on top of the Union building, the clock tower was built in 1956 as a part of the overall building construction. Initially a complicated system with many points of failure, it didn’t take long for the tower to be critiqued.
In 1959, Donald M. Marquis wrote an article for The Record complaining about the lack of consistency in the chimes.
“It either didn’t ring, rang all the time, or rang a pseudo Jazz pattern that exemplified the worst of Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Caesar Frank,” Marquis wrote.
Today, 67 years after its construction, the clock tower once again has issues. Despite improved technology involving computers, the clock tower is no longer operational and hasn’t been for quite some time.
“I retired three years ago,” said Glenn Gilbert, former director of facilities. “Within a few weeks after I retired, both the chime stopped, the clock stopped, and it hasn’t been used since then.”
Gilbert was instrumental in keeping the bell tower going. During his 35-year tenure at Goshen College, he saw the tower through multiple upgrades and many clock resets. Every time power was interrupted to the tower, both the chimes and the clock faces, which run on separate systems, have to be meticulously synced up.
“You have to set this clock, and then you go reset this clock, and then you get them kinda lined up,” Gilbert said. “And then they go until the next time the power blips, and then you’re back doing it again.”
On visiting the internal workings of the tower, it’s clear that Gilbert spent a lot of time making it as easy to use as possible. The systems are clearly labeled and accompanied by an in-depth user manual.
“These controls have Glenn written all over it,” said Brian Mast, current director of facilities. “He’s a genius; the number of things on this campus that he’s made work out of sheer will is just fantastic.”
The clock’s failure is due to a brief power outage in the summer of 2020; it was never reset after. As more and more time has passed, the tower has slipped down the list of priorities. In theory, the clock and chimes still work, but there is no longer anyone on campus with the knowledge and time to easily reset the clock.
Gilbert has battled the tower many times, fixing broken machinery or installing new systems. None have been quite as notable as the time a platform he was working on near the top of the tower gave way under him.
“When I first [was] hired, one of the first things I did was go up and lubricate the clock motors,” Gilbert said. “I climbed up there and was greasing them up and figuring it out. And all of a sudden, the platform I stood on broke. There was a platform at one level, and then there’s a platform about three feet down and over to the side. So I instinctively jumped over to that one. And then when my heart started again, I realized that it was five o’clock in the afternoon and nobody knew I was up there. And I thought, this is not good.”
Talks of fixing the clock tower bring up the role of such a structure in our modern world. Since everyone has the time in their pockets, there’s no longer a need for a communal campus clock. And the longer it goes without working, the fewer the people who think about the fact that it’s gone.
“People like to hear the chimes,” Gilbert said. “But if the chimes weren’t there, they didn’t notice. If the chimes were two minutes off, then I’d get complaints.”
“The clocks themselves I think are pretty useless,” Gilbert added. “I get words like ‘iconic’ that come up and I’m thinking, ‘really?’ I was a proponent for taking the whole clock tower down.”
He didn’t get a lot of support for that idea, though.
“[The tower] isn’t mine to think about anymore,” Gilbert said. “I’m certainly not going to stand in front of somebody that wants to restore it. I get it, too. But when I think of iconic, I think, ‘really?’”
Today, the trees lining Main Street make it hard to see the clock. The bricks are starting to crack in places, and while it’s not in any danger of coming down, Mast is in talks with a construction company to restore the brick. The tower isn’t going to be removed, but there’s also currently no plans to restore the chimes and clock faces.
Mast still remembers the clock fondly.
“I loved it when I first started here, and you hear the clock go off and you know what time it is,” Mast said. “It’s cool.”