Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Early History of the Pelhamwood Clock

The lovely Pelhamwood Clock Tower that stands at the intersection of Harmon Avenue and Harmon Place forms one of the beautiful entrances to the picturesque neighborhood of Pelhamwood in today's Village of Peham.  The tower was among the first structures erected in Pelhamwood by Clifford B. Harmon Company in 1909 and 1910 during the earliest development of Pelhamwood.  

Circa 1910.

Pelhamwood Clock Tower in 2002.
Photograph by the Author.

The Pelhamwood Clock Tower has two faces:  one southward facing so as to be seen from the nearby Pelham Station on the New Haven Line; and one northward facing so as to be seen by Pelhamwood commuters hurrying toward their departure from the train station for their morning commute.

The Pelhamwood Clock Tower and the roofed gates adjacent to it form an inviting entrance to the neighborhood.  That, of course, was the intent.  They were built to be seen from New Haven Line trains by commuters who might be enticed to buy a lot and build a home in Pelhamwood to shorten their commutes to and from New York City.

Originally, the clock tower and the roofed gateway were built with wooden-shingled roofs.  Additionally, the clock originally had mechanical works that grew increasingly unreliable.  

Barely thirteen years after the clock tower and roofed gateways were built, they were in a surprisingly bad state of repair.  They needed reshingling.  The stonework of the clock tower needed repair.  The clock needed repair.  The Board of Trustees of the Village of North Pelham passed a resolution authorizing repairs and even advertised the work for competitive bids only to discover that the clock tower and the roofed gateways were privately owned by the development company.  With the Village unable to spend taxpayer money to improve private property, the Pelhamwood Association stepped up and raised the funds to complete the repairs.  

By 1925, there was further deterioration.  A light at the clock tower needed repair.  The tower stonework needed repair.  The Pelhamwood Association authorized the expenditure of $100 to fund basic repairs and the work was done.

In these early years, the clock gained a name.  It became known far and wide as "Offinger's Clock" and "Martin H. Offinger's Clock."  Martin H. Offinger was a Pelhamwood resident who lived on Clifford Avenue.  His name became synonymous with the clock for the personal attention and care he lavished on the landmark and for his uncanny ability to assess whether the two faces of the clock told the time accurately or were running fast or slow.

At about this time a legend grew up around Offinger's Clock.  According to tradition, the face of the clock that faced northward toward commuters hurrying down Harmon Avenue toward the railroad station ran a little fast compared to the face of the clock that faced southward toward the train station.  By running a little fast, the northward facing clock silently urged Pelhamwood commuters to hurry to catch their trains in an effort to ensure that they would not be late for their trains.

The legend seems to have been apocryphal.  It turns out that the two clock faces rarely told the same time.  Moreover, as the years passed, the clocks grew increasingly unreliable.

In 1926, the Pelhamwood Association installed a "Telechron" electric clock.  It utilized the latest technology to synchronize both faces of the clock with "Radio Time Signals from the U.S. Government Radio Station at Arlington, Va."  

Alas, the latest and greatest time technology was no match for the nasty little bushy-tailed tree rats that Pelhamites otherwise know as "squirrels."  Within a few years the clocks were unreliable and out of synch again.  Squirrels were to blame.  As one newspaper article put it so colorfully:  "Hickory, Dickory Dock; Squirrels Mix Up The Clock."

By 1941, the squirrel problem was nearly destroying the clock tower.  By this time, the issue of public / private ownership seems to have been resolved.  The Board of Trustees of the Village of North Pelham decided to restore the clock tower and the adjacent roofed gateways.  It authorized the Village Commissioner of Streets to replace the wooden shingle roofs of the clock tower and the gates with slate roofs.  It also authorized funds to have a local Fifth Avenue jeweler repair the clock.

Local roofer James Barbara began the work by ousting more than fifty nesting squirrles that had taken up residence inside the clock tower.  The squatter squirrels were quickly dispossessed and the roofing work was completed at a cost of $100.  Pelham jeweler I. Kahn repaired the clock works at a cost of $20.  The work was completed by February, 1941.

The clock repairs lasted only six months.  By August, times shown on the two clock faces were different and neither was correct.  The clocks became the butt of jokes and snide remarks in the local newspaper.

In more recent years, the Pelhamwood Clock came under the loving care of Pelhamwood resident Helen Leale Harper Jr. before her death.  Without her care and attention, the clocktower and gates would have suffered.  Similarly, as recently as 2014, the Pelham Preservation and Garden Society provided the funds necessary to repair, clean, and paint the clock tower and adjoining gate.  Repeatedly, over the years, the Pelham community has risen to the occasion to preserve the landmark we know as the Pelhamwood Clock Tower.

Early Image of the Pelhamwood Clock Tower and an
Unidentified Man, Circa 1910.

Postcard View of the Pelhamwood Clock Tower,
Circa Late 1920s or Early 1930s.

Below is the text of a number of articles relevant to the early history of the Pelhamwood Clock Tower.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Many Demands Made at Session Lasting Several Hourse. . . 

Next came the question of reshingling and otherwise repairing the clock tower on Harmon avenue at the entrance to Pelhamwood.  At a previous meeting the village board had passed a resolution directing this be done and even advertised for bids, but it was discovered that the clock tower is owned by the Pelhamwood company and the village cannot spend the taxpayers' money on it.  Mr. Huler, of Pehamwood, after ascertaining from the village counsel that this is correct, stated that the Pelhamwood association will repair it at its own expense."

Source:  NORTH PELHAM VILLAGE BOARD HAS MEETING, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 18, 1923, p. 2, cols. 3-4.  

"Will Repair Stone Stairway Leading To Benedict Place

The Pelhamwood Association will repair the stone tower and stone stairway leading to Benedict Place, beautify the ground surrounding the stone pillars by planting flowers and grass seed, and repair the light over the clock tower, now hanging by one wire and endangering the lives of passerby.  The Association has authorized the Board of Governors to spend $100 for the improvements.  Henry A. Jackson is pushing the work."

Source:  Will Repair Stone Stairway Leading To Benedict Place, The Pelham Sun, May 22, 1925, p. 9, col. 1.  

"Arlington Time On New Electric Clock
Pelhamwood Association Has Installed Perfect Timepiece in Harmon Avenue Clock Tower

The Pehamwood Association has recently equipped the clock tower near the Station Plaza with an electric clock movement.  This new clock, called the Telechron, has many interesting features.  It never has to be wound up or regulated and except at such times as there has been an interruption in the electrical service or for Daylight Saving Time changes, it never has to be set.

In common with many of the Public Service Corporations, the Westchester Lighting Company furnishes a service that makes it possible to connect a clock of the telechron type direct to their regular lighting wires and have correct time continuously.  The method by which this is accomplished is comparatively simple.  A controlling clock, called a Maste clock, located in the power house, regulates the speed of the generators; in technical language, it regulates the generator so that it furnishes a constant average 60-cycle frequency.  

The design of the telechron clock is such that it runs at exactly the same speed as the generator supplying it with current, which is equivalent to saying that the telechron will show the exact time that the Master clock does.  As the Master clock is a very accurate timekeeper and is checked twice daily with the Radio Time Signals from the U.S. Government Radio Station at Arlington, Va., practically perfect time is assured.

As the Telephone Company and Western Union are reluctant to give the correct time over the telephone it should interest the public to know that it is possible to obtain a continuously correct time service by the use of a clock of the type installed in the clock tower."

Source:  Arlington Time On New Electric Clock -- Pelhamwood Association Has Installed Perfect Timepiece in Harmon Avenue Clock Tower, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 26, 1926, p. 11, col. 2.  

Martin H. Offinger's Pride and Joy Tells Two Kinds of Time, Modern and Futuristic.  Pelham Kids Itself Into Believing That Clock Is Right So Commuters Can Catch Trains.

'Oh Mary, what time is it?' called out Mr. Pelhamwood-Commuter.

'It's half past seven, John,' was the reply.

'Don't kid me, Mary, I'm not in the mood for it this morning,' called back Mr. P. C. 

'I'm not kidding you, John, and the clock isn't slow either, because I set it with the Pelhamwood clock and that's never slow because Martin Offinger sets it.'

Up jumps Mr. P. C. into the bathroom he flies; water splashes all over the place.  Back into the bedroom goes Mr. P. C.  'Mary, where's my collar button.'  'Oh, find it yourself.' Hot words ensue.  They end when Mr. P. C. comes thumping down the stairs with a perfect imitation of a pile driver.

'Can't stay and eat breakfast, I'll miss my train.'  Away, down the street goes Mr. P. C.  In one hand he holds a piece of toast, in the other hand he holds a brief case; his shirt tail is out and his necktie is crooked, but he doesn't care.  His one thought is to make the 7:59.  He rounds the bend on Harmon avenue and his gaze instantly falls upon the clock.

'Seven-fifty-eight!'  A sigh of relief comes from the mouth of the commuter as he sprints the remaining 300 yards.

He stops at the back of the station, straightens his tie and tucks in his shirt.  He walks around to the platform as though he had taken his time all the way there.  

Something's the matter, nobody's on the platform.  Mr. P. C. looks at the clock again, only seven fifty-five.  'I guess I need glasses,' says Mr. P. C. to himself.

That same night on the way home Mr. P. C. looked at the clock very carefully and he found out that the north side of the tower clock was five minutes faster than the south side.

The Pride of Pelhamwood had not failed.  It might tell incorrect time, but it gets Mr. P. C. to the train in time.  That, after all, is a victory for Martin Offinger and his timepiece.


Source:  PELHAMWOOD CLOCK MAY BE FAST BUT COMMUTERS GET THEIR TRAINS, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 25, 1930, Section Two, p. 2, cols. 4-5. 

"Offinger's Clock Doesn't Agree.

Pelham's first public timepiece, the Pelhamwood Clock at Harmon Place and Harmon Avenue, commonly known as 'Martin H. Offinger's Clock,' doesn't agree with itself.  The gold-painted hands on the railroad plaza side of the timepiece are fifteen minutes behind the time registered on the other side of the clock."

Source:   Offinger's Clock Doesn't Agree, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 13, 1935, p. 2, col. 2.   

"Hickory, Dickory Dock; Squirrels Mix Up The Clock

Sixty minutes has every hour, except those counted off by the Pelhamwood clock.  Street Commissioner Anthony Smith thought he had the time situation well in hand when he chased half a hundred squirrels out of the clock tower at Harmon avenue and Harmon Place and had the mechanism set in order again a week or so ago, but he reckoned without one or two persevering little fellows who want to get back into their home again.  Mr. Smith covered up the holes through which they gained entry into the tower, but he didn't count on them coming back.  When they do, they invariably get mixed up with the moving minute hand on the southerly clockface.  What is five minutes or so in the life [of] a squirrel that has been driven out of its comfortable nest?  Mr. Smith has pushed the hannd back every morning this week.  He's beginning to wish that the clock was the striking kind, and that it could strike out a few of those home-loving squirrels."

Source:  Hickory, Dickory Dock; Squirrels Mix Up The ClockThe Pelham Sun, Feb. 21, 1941, p. 5, cols. 7.

"'Offinger's Clock' To Run Again; That's A Promise to Commuters

A decision of the North Pelham Board of Trustees on Wednesday night will put Pelhamwood back 'on time' again, and many local commuters will share the blessings of that time-honored local institution, which has become affectionately known to old residents as 'Martin Offinger's Clock.'  Newcomers who never enjoyed the service rendered by the clock in the Pelhamwood tower at Harmon avenue and Harmon place near Pelham station cannot actually visualize that the hands of the apparently ancient time pice may be activated by motive power and there are many old commuters who will rejoice at the announcement that the Board of Trustees is taking steps to put the clock on a regular schedule, just as it was in the days when Martin H. Offinger of Clifford avenue devoted much of his time in urging that it tell the time.  Thus it beknown as 'Offinger's Clock.'  

The first indication that something was amiss came early this morning when commuters who were used to seeing squirrels popping in and out between the hands in the [illegible]:20 position, discovered that the hands on the southerly side of the clock had actually moved to [illegible] clock.  And wonder of wonders the hands on the opposite side of the clock had also moved to the vertical position.  Both clock faces showed the same time.  Was it by squirrel power that this miracle occurred??

The story was told by Street Commissioner Anthony Smith at the North Pelham Board of Trustees meeting.  At the suggestion of Board members the street commissioner had made a study of the clock's condition.  With I. Kahn, local jeweler, the mechanism of the clock was inspected.  Yes, it could be put into condition at a cost of $20.  Mr. Kahn had moved the hands to their new position.

It appears that the major problem of the clock's downfall has been squirrels.  'There were about 50 of them nesting in the clock tower,' Mr. Smith told the Board of Trustees.  'If we chase them out and put a new slate roof on the tower, we can fix it up so that they won't get in again and the clock will run.'

The street commissioner also recommended that the two ornamental gateposts adjacent to the clock tower be improved with slate roofs.  The entire cost was estimated by James Barbara, local slate roofer, at $100.

The Board authorized the street commissioner to go ahead with the work."

Source:  "Offinger's Clock" To Run Again; That's A Promise to Commuters, The Pelham Sun, Jan. 16, 1941, p. 5, cols. 1-2.  

"Squirrels Ousted, Pelhamwood Clock Runs Merrily On, Keeping Good Time

A clattering too loud and incessant to be caused by the movement of squirrels was heard emanating and resounding from and within the the old clock tower at Harmon avenue and Harmon Place on Saturday morning.

Some 50 dispossessed squirrels now have to look not only for greener pastures but for new homes.  Workmen of James Barbara, local roofer, started this week to rip off old rotted wooden shingles from the roof of the tower of 'Martin Offinger's Clock' and to apply sleek new slate roofing.  Thus the tapping was no result of squirrel activity, the same disillusioned squirrels who at those very moments were probably searching the familiar neighborhood for other abodes.  The repair work resulted from a meeting of the North Pelham trustees on Jan. 8 when the village fathers voted to renovate the landmark, as to tower structure and clock mechanism.  

At the cost of $100 the roofer contracted to repair the tower roof and the roofs of the two adjoining gateposts.

At the completion of this work, I. Kahn, jeweler of Fifth avenue, North Pelham, will once again set the hands of the clock in motion at a cost to the village of $20.  It whould be realized by all that the abruptly routed squirrels have not only sacrificed their home but have also contributed to the welfare of Pelhamwood residents.  Now each morning, as of old, the Pelhamwood commuters may by the old tower clock, correctly pace themselves on the way to the depot and their favorite train.  Sometimes, too, the venerable timepiece will warn of needed urgency, and again, will only dutifully spell despair to some tardy traveler.

The clock is affectionately known as 'Martin Offinger's Clock' because of that individual's great interest in the timepiece several years ago.  Members of former Village Boards of Trustees and also members of the Pelhamwood Association will recall how he urged that the clock be kept in service."

Source:  Squirrels Ousted, Pelhamwood Clock Runs Merrily On, Keeping Good Time, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 14, 1941, p. 5, cols. 4-5.  


They went to considerable expense to put the Pelhamwood clock back in shape again, but you still can't believe it.  When it says 8:45 on the face on the northerly side of the clock tower, the southerly side says 8:55.  And I seem to recall that one day last week it was 4:32 on the south side and 5:46 on the north side.  You can take your pick."

Source:  Leary, Margaret, OBSERVATIONS by MARGARET LEARY, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 15, 1941, p. 2, cols. 3-4.  

"Now He's A Thespian.

We have heard of many accomplishments of Martin Offinger of Clifford avenue, but we now understand that he is making a bid for fame in theatricals.  Last night was the opening of "Aren't We All' at the Wilton, Conn., Town Hall and said Martin Offinger appeared as one of the principal characters in 'Good Morning Judge,' a special feature of the production.  As an executive, a judge of boxing matches and as a fisherman it is hard to beat Offinger, but we understand as an actor he is supreme.  At one time he was known as the 'Watch on the Plaza', said monicker being donated to him due to his uncanny ability at one time to detect the correctness of the Pelhamwood clock.  Incidentally there will be another performance of 'Aren't We All' presented at the Wilton Town Hall tonight by the Cannon Grange, of which 'Farmer' Offinger is a summer member.  It should be worth attending."  

Source:  Now He's A Thespian, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 9, 1932, p. 2, cols. 5-6.  

*          *           *          *          *

Periodically I have written about Pelhamwood and Clifford B. Harmon, a principal developer of Pelhamwood.  For those interested in a comprehensive history of the development, see Bell, Blake A., The Early Development of Pelhamwood, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 37, Sept. 17, 2004, p. 12, col. 2.  For earlier postings about Pelhamwood and Clifford B. Harmon, see:

Mon., Mar. 16, 2015:  Newspaper References and Advertisements Regarding Development of Pelhamwood.

Fri., Sep. 26, 2014:  1909 Advertisements Show How the New Development of Pelhamwood Was Marketed to New Yorkers.

Sat., Jan. 25, 2014:  Putting the Finishing Touches on the Lovely New Church in Pelhamwood in 1923.  

Mon., Feb. 1, 2010:  Obituary of Richard B. Ferris of Pelhamwood

Thu., Oct. 11, 2007:  Biographical Data and Photographs of Clifford B. Harmon Who Developed Pelhamwood

Tue., Jul. 10, 2007:  An Early Event in the History of Pelhamwood

Thu., Jun. 21, 2007:  Information About "Aeronautic" Exploits of Clifford B. Harmon Who Developed Pelhamwood in Pelham

Thu. Aug. 10, 2006:  The New Development of Pelhamwood Gets Approval for its Proposed Sewage System in 1912

Tue., Nov. 15, 2005:  Plaque Dedicated at the Historic Pelhamwood Clock Tower

Mon., Sep. 12, 2005: Pelhamwood Association Celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 1942

Thu., May 12, 2005: Clifford B. Harmon, Developer of Pelhamwood.

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