It was a sad day for Ipswich when on June 13, 1965, lightning hit the steeple on the sanctuary of the First Church on Meeting House Green and the building was destroyed by fire. The building was more than a century old and was considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic church construction in America.
The only element of the old church that is visible from the exterior of the building that replaced it is the rooster on the steeple. Read more about the history of First Church.
The First Church Clock
by John Fiske
As the parish records tell us, “A clock purchased by subscription was landed in Ipswich May 29, 1762. The Parish on May 31st voted their readiness to receive it into the steeple of this meeting house and September 16, 1762 they voted to be at the charge of putting it up there.”
Then in 1846 (here comes another church), the First Church built the fifth church and relocated the clock into the new steeple where it continued to keep the town clicking along like (ahem!) clockwork. And then – calamity! In June, 1965, the church was destroyed by lightning and the clock reduced to a jumble of cogwheels lying in the ashes. Parishioners gathered them up, put them in a box and promptly forgot about them.
Fifty years later, a tower clock expert comes on the scene. Donn Lathrop heard about the pile of clock parts, inspected them and volunteered to take them to his Vermont workshop and put them back together again. And he did just that. Today the clock is back in town in full working order and probably more accurate than at any time in its history – it loses just one minute in 24 hours.
And here’s the problem. There’s no question of the clock’s importance: it’s the first town clock and it’s one of the earliest in New England. But it’s huge. It’s around eight feet high and six feet wide. It can’t be fitted into the tower of the sixth church (are you still keeping count?) and for the time being it’s sitting in a hallway outside the pastor’s office. The Town Hall can’t find room to display it, nor can the Ipswich Museum.
*Update: the restored clock is now with the Templeton Museum.