A painstaking recreation of the historic street clock that once stood in front of the Clock Cigar Shop in downtown Mackay, Idaho was recently installed by the South Custer County Historical Society. Clocks such as this are an iconic piece of American heritage and can be found in cities large and small throughout the country.
Even though watches developed in the 1500s following the invention of the spring-based clock, personal timekeeping devices were extremely expensive and not altogether reliable for much of their existence. This led to the public clock becoming an indispensable part of everyday life. The public clock became even more essential after the industrial revolution and the introduction of timetables for public transportation and train schedules. The first train timetable was introduced in England in 1839, and the use of clockface-based schedules was widely implemented as the Victorian era progressed.
During the 1840s, the first “street” or “post” clocks began to crop up in densely populated English cities. The first post clocks in the US appeared in the early 1870s on the East Coast, and they would soon spread throughout the country. They were embraced by businesses with strict operating hours, such as courthouses, banks, and city halls, as well as jewelers who installed them as a form of advertisement. Even as the popularity and wider of availability of watches rose, post clocks remained an important tool by which people could set their timepiece. Since many jewelers also sell watches and perform watch repairs, having a reliable clock in front of the store would attract potential customers who found the accuracy of their watch lacking.
The original clock in front of from which the historic Clock Cigar Shop got its name was erected in 1919 by E. Frank to advertise his, you guessed it, jewelry and watch repair store. The iconic clock remained even as the building was repurposed for many different enterprises. The time was regulated by a Western Telegraph signal that was relayed from the nearby train depot. The signal was received inside the store and relayed out to the street. While they were installing the new clock, they found the remnants of the original telegraph wiring, leading the workers to believe the current clock is within inches of where the original once stood. Inside the shop you can still see where the gap in the wallpaper where the junction box hung, as well.
The Clock Cigar Shop was the second building in Mackay and served many roles over the years. It began as the newspaper office, before being converted into the jewelry store. During prohibition the space was used as a speakeasy and cardroom. Somewhat ironically it would go on to house a law office before being converted into a sport shop and then an art gallery. Sadly, the post clock fell and broke in 1942, most likely due to neglect by the store’s many different owners. Despite the lack of its namesake for much of its existence, the building name is still in reference to the original clock, which is a true testament to the enduring image of the post clock.
Now, a fantastic facsimile of that original time piece stands in front of the second oldest building in Mackay thanks to the South Custer County Historical Society. Paul Fulmer of the SCCHS had the idea for the project after seeing an episode of How It’s Made that featured the Electric Time Company. They first undertook an extensive but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to try and uncover any pieces of the original clock from which to work. The original was most likely made of cast iron which would have shattered into pieces upon impact with the ground. Given the timing, the pieces were most likely melted down and repurposed for the war effort. Without anything physical to go on, Paul reached out to Electric Time and provided them some photos of the clock from the newspaper archives. The current president of Electric Time recognized the original manufacturer to be Gilbert Clock Factory from Winchester, Connecticut due to the distinct three sconce design.
The fabrication of the eleven-foot-tall landmark was funded by a combination of private community donations and a grant furnished by Idaho Heritage Trust. The replica was installed by a team headed up by SCCHS, who also run the nearby Lost River Museum which features many displays and artifacts from the early pioneer days, mining era, and railroad memorabilia. The Clock Cigar Shop building was saved from demolition by them in 2018 with the intent to restore it for use as a museum, as well. The first third of the building will be a recreation of the jewelry store, the second third will recreate its time as a newspaper office, and the final third will be set up as it would have appeared during prohibition. Each section will have period-accurate wallpaper, fixtures, and original stained glass. They are still sourcing items for the various displays but hope to have it open to the public in the next year or so.
Located about 90 minutes NW of Idaho Falls, Mackay is a picturesque destination for those interested in learning about Idaho’s mining history, and we highly recommend exploring the mines and homesteads dotting the surrounding area. Further information on a self-guided tour of the area can be found by visiting the Lost River Museum.
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