Globe photo/ Bill Greene
After two timeless years, the Old South Meeting House clock began ticking again today.
New gold-leafed, 4-foot hands were affixed to the 243-year-old clock, ending an extensive 11-month restoration that removed the entire mechanism out of the building for the first time since it was installed in 1770.
Just before 1 p.m., Horologist David Hochstrasser cranked the shiny brass gears he had tirelessly scrubbed clean, giving life to the 7-foot pendulum hanging below.
"It's gorgeous, isn't it," asked David Webb, a craftsman who restored the South-facing dial and recreated the North one.
"It has been such a community icon for Downtown Crossing," said Robin DeBlosi, marketing director for Old South. "When that clock loses a minute of time we start getting phone calls, so it's wonderful it's still true."
The two 9-foot clock faces debuted a new look, black paint coated with ground glass. Restorers discovered evidence of the smalt coating when they analyzed the faces under a microscope; it was the original finish on the nearly quarter-ton clocks when they were created in the mid-19th century to replace older dials.
"They probably had that finish for 20 to 30 years, but haven't been back to a true smalt until now," said Wendall Kalsow, a principal architect with McGinley Kalsow & Associates Inc., the Somerville-based restoration firm heading the project. "When the sun hits it, it just sparkles -- a shimmer like a little jewel in the air."
The clock is believed to be the oldest running clock in the state, and one of the three oldest tower clocks still running in its original location in the country, said Paul Foley, a clock historian.
The relic was shut down in late 2007 because its hands were damaged. Old South officials knew it needed restoring, but did not have the necessary funds. Then an anonymous donor contacted the historic building's board.
"We were incredibly fortunate that an interested donor offered to fund the entire project," said Emily Curran, executive director of Old South. "It was sort of a dream come true."
The $100,000 project has now revived a clock that kept time during the shaping of the nation.
In 1770, the timepiece hung outside as hundreds of angry Bostonians gathered at Old South the day after the Boston Massacre, forcing the British governor to remove troops from the city, Curran said.
Three years later, the Sons of Liberty passed under the clock on their way to Griffin's Wharf to dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor, she said.
The city then purchased the clock for 80 pounds in 1774 and maintained it until 1922. It served an important social service to early residents, as many did not own clocks or watches, Foley said.
Now, with the ubiquitous cell phone, the clock is not as essential to daily life as it once was. But it's still a signature city sight.James Poulos's office on Washington Street affords one of the best views of the clock.
It's just an unbelievable landmark. I've been here for four years and it became a part of my day; now it will be again,'' said Poulos, assistant director of development at the AIDS Action Committee,. "To me, it's Downtown Crossing.''
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