A timeless symbol signifies Farmville

Published 6:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2021

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Downtown landscapes are often known for a singular feature that grabs the eye and helps define the look of a town in the mind of those living there or passing through.

In Farmville, that singular feature can tell the time and even play a song — it is the statuesque clock in front of Town Hall on North Main Street.

As Mayor David Whitus and former Town Manager Gerry Spates recalled their efforts to make the clock a reality, they made it clear that from the beginning, they were trying to create something that would be a town symbol.

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Spates, who was town manager for 41 years until his retirement in 2019, said the idea to add the clock to downtown came from him and its architect.

“We were trying to come up with something that would be a good focal point for the town,” he said. “We even knocked around the idea of letting businesses put advertisements on the clock and that type of thing,” though town officials ultimately opted not to.

He mentioned a former downtown clock that came before it served as an inspiration.

“If you remember, down at the corner of Third and Main when First (National) Bank was there, they always had a clock up there that would tell you what time it was,” he said. “When they closed, the clock went out.”

Whitus remembered well this turning clock that used to be on top of the bank, an institution that had been located where Barnes & Noble at Longwood University is now.

“That clock was an absolute focal point in town,” he said. “Everybody paid attention to the clock.”

Reflecting on the development of the town’s clock, Whitus noted that he was on Town Council when construction began on the new Town Hall.

“I’ve always had a fascination, if you will, with clocks, and I just think that a town hall could not be a town hall unless it had a clock out front, and so I was one of the early advocates to advocate for the clock,” he said.

Spates recalled the clock was part of the Virginia Department of Transportation Streetscape program.

“It was all part of that Streetscape grant that we got, and it was like two or three phases, but this was in the first phase, same with the archway that came across Main Street,” he said. “That was in the Streetscape program too.”

State money helped provide for the clock.

“I think we had to pay 25%, and the state paid 75%,” Spates said.

Whitus noted the price tag was significant, as the original clock cost $25,000. After the town upgraded it, the total cost wound up being $33,235.

“There was some pushback on spending that much money for a clock, so we had to really make a concerted effort to get that clock included in the budget, and it has become an iconic clock, and it’s really very much a part of Main Street,” Whitus said.

Spates said town officials were given several options to look at in terms of clocks with different design elements before picking the one that stands now in front of Town Hall. It has four different sides with a separate clock face looking in each direction, all bearing the inscription of their producer, The Verdin Company in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As described on its website, Verdin is a world-renowned manufacturer of cast bronze bells, electronic carillons, post clocks, tower clocks, bell and clock towers since 1842.

Whitus said the Farmville clock was installed around May 2007.

“It worked out very well and same with the archway,” Spates said. “There was a lot of interest from other communities when we did the archway and when we did the clock. They liked the idea of the clock, so how many of them did that, I don’t know.”

He said he is sure Farmville’s clock inspired the installation of others elsewhere, though.

“I’ve seen those clocks in other communities even before we put ours up,” he said. “A lot of places have them, but I think ours worked out. It’s kind of unique. That one plays music too.”

Whitus said the upgrade to the clock was to allow it to play music using a BlackBerry device.

“It’ll play anytime you want it to,” Spates said, noting the town holds the ability to program it.

He also pointed out that it automatically adjusts for daylight saving time.

Whitus noted how his great fascination with clocks has led to even more timepieces in town.

“Even in buildings, in the new Town Hall, I’ve advocated for a clock basically in every room,” he said. “When you’re in a meeting, there’s nothing like everybody (saying), ‘What time is it?’”

Some town wall clocks have been made with the Town of Farmville logo on them. At least one hangs in Town Hall, and others have been used for gifts.

Whitus was also influential in the placement of the creative clock at Crute Stage.

“That was another one of those freak things that Gerry Spates and I were standing there, side by side, and I was looking around for a clock to see what time it was, and I turned to Gerry, and I said, ‘We need a clock up there. It would be so neat to have a clock.’ And then he talked to some vendors and came up with the idea; that’s a really unique clock the way the hands are made on it. So (it’s) another cool thing (that) goes back to my clock fascination.”

Perhaps the town is in the midst of developing a fleet of signature clocks. But if it is, the clock in front of town hall is the flagship — a symbol to know Farmville by.