The Willard clock tower once called thousands of workers to the B&O Rail yards for their shifts and told residents what time it was on the hour of each day as the bell rang across the city. The tower sat on the north end of town on top of the old city hall building. That ended in 1999 when the old girl was taken down for repairs. The problem was that the repairs were never done due to cost and fear of what could be more expensive than building a new one or just go without a clock for the time-being. After all, the times have changed, or at least at that time they did. But things are changing again across America as these old clocks and downtown buildings are being sought out for new business and tourism. Cities across the country are tapping into the old to generate new types of shopping in these older towns using what they have as the population sees the value of these older buildings.
After the Willard clock tower was taken down no one paid any attention to it. A group tried to resurrect it in 2000, but couldn’t. The clock then sat in a field rotting away until one former resident decided to save it with the help of local residential leaders five years ago.
A group formed, and after four years of work, have been able to raise a third of what they need in pledges and cash to resurrect the clock tower. What was left of the tower was moved to indoor storage in late 2014, blueprints have been drawn up, a rendering of what the clock will look like, website and Facebook pages have been established and last year a clock plaza magazine was put together by Rick Reed, the guy that started this drive. Early this year the plaza construction started and named after resident Roy Doster. Roy was heavily involved in many groups in Willard that mentored the youth in town and the well-being of the city overall. He was involved in saving parts of the old B&O depot in town that was rebuilt at the city park. Naming of the plaza after Doster was welcome news to many of Willard’s residents. This was spearheaded by city manager Jim Ludban.
The most recent fundraising effort for the clock tower is a 600-page book of Willard history in photos that has been printed. The book went on sale in mid-June and was put together by Rick Reed, who started the book as a whim. He had always had a book in the back of his mind and the clock project spurred him into action. The book covers Willard from about 1890 to present day in photos and information. Many of the photos have not been seen and others rarely seen in the public eye for many years.
Reed made calls all over the country to find old timers who had stories or old photos for the book. Many were happy to see such a book printed, if for no reason other than to save photos of Willard that may someday be lost. The book proceeds go straight to the clock tower project.
Some 1,500 to 2,000 photos are in the book, with details and history for buildings, and memories of what they were used for. There are memories of Willardites working in the muck, in local stores, and other areas as well. Reed stuck photos from Plymouth, Greenwich, Norwalk and North Fairfield in the book since many people have lived in or have family in these surrounding areas. But most photos are of Willard. Reed’s attempt was to save not only the clock tower but other history as well. Reed says history is really memories written down, and people like to hear the stories. Photos add to that verbal history. But Reed wants the tower to send a clear message in small town America. If you tear it all down you forget where you came from and lose that identity.
Many small towns suffer the same thing as Willard as people and manufacturing moves to larger cities. But if you notice, things are changing. You see more small towns taking a bigger effort in rebuilding something new and yes younger people are moving back. Doing research online Reed was amazed at all the small towns taking charge of their future and he hopes more people in Willard will do the same. There is something about old buildings and the stories a small town has that people are wanting. It could be all the upheaval in the country and world as people seek a simpler and not-so-fast paced life. According to Reed, Willard has a lot to offer. A huge stock of turn of the century homes, many with original woodwork still in them, and an old downtown just waiting for new tenants to create a new shopping trend. Willard also has manufacturing jobs, farm jobs and an industrial park that can handle new companies and business. Reed understands Willard will never be the same as it was in his days growing up and working there. But that is what excites Reed about his former hometown. This new potential just waiting for the younger crowds to see it and come home. Reed hopes the clock tower can be the start of that. It is a small start and his way to give back. People don’t see the clock as Reed sees it. The vision is hard for some, but it’s there if they open their eyes to it.
Reed, who now lives in Columbus, Indiana and is retired, says that the clock tower can be done and he was always taught to never give up or give in. Even if the plan changes, look to the future. Reed has chosen his hometown to see that happen. His team in Willard say people keep asking who Rick Reed is and he says that isn’t important. He tells them to say he is proud of his hometown and to jump on board. Together we are stronger than if we do things alone. When Willard wins the county wins and vise a versa.
For more information on how to buy a book or donate to the Save Willard’s Clock project check out Save Willard’s Clock on Facebook or on the website. You can contact Don Graham, President of Willard Area Economic Development. His number is 419-933-2081. Rick Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-379-2468. The time is now.