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Tamaqua's time machine

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS From left: Grant Betz, Tamaqua; Chris Bartush, Orwigsburg and Dave Carl, Jim Thorpe, check cables and straps as the 101-year-old First National Bank clock is prepared for hoisting.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS From left: Grant Betz, Tamaqua; Chris Bartush, Orwigsburg and Dave Carl, Jim Thorpe, check cables and straps as the 101-year-old First National Bank clock is prepared for hoisting.
Published December 14. 2012 05:03PM

Lois Breiner had a secret. Nobody else knew it.

But it was only a matter of time.

What Lois knew for 48 years was that a fancy stained glass clock that helped to define Tamaqua's downtown since 1911 was stashed away inside a Cherry Street garage at the rear of her parents' Hunter Street home.

"It was carefully chained there," she recalls.

Her father, Henry, had salvaged the timepiece in 1960 when a name change at the Tamaqua First National Bank made the old clock obsolete.

After her parents passed, Lois had the task of liquidating the assets and emptying the property.

When that moment came, it was time for the secret to be secret no more.

Lois knew that the time had come for the clock to return home. So she donated it to the Tamaqua Historical Society, present owner of the bank building.

"She just walked into this office and said she had a clock," recalls Eileen Barron of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce, housed in the office adjacent to the former bank.

Members of the historical society were shocked to learn of the clock's existence. Everyone had thought the old landmark had been junked and was a part of old Tamaqua that existed only in pictures.

Turns out, it not only survived, but was in outstanding original condition.

The O.B. McClintock Co. masterpiece is a two-sided bronze clock that stands seven feet high and for decades was a familiar icon of Tamaqua First National Bank.

The famous O.B. McClintock/Loomis Company built bank alarms and clocks used to operate chimes, along with ornate street clocks and interior chimes and clocks.

Manufactured in Classical style by the Minneapolis clockmaker, it illuminated the 100 block of West Broad Street until 1960 when the bank was acquired by Miners National Bank of Pottsville. The name change prompted removal of the historic timepiece. At that point, Henry Breiner, assistant cashier at the bank and later Hometown branch manager, salvaged the clock by moving it to his garage.

Nobody is sure how Breiner was able to accomplish the feat because the clock is extremely heavy and oversized.

"All I remember is that he had a friend with a pickup truck," recalls Lois. Nor can anyone figure how he was able to prevent damage during half a century in storage.

Breiner had worked at the bank since 1958 after leaving his job as compensation adjuster for what was then called the Lehigh Navigation Coal Co.

The bank building is now the headquarters of the historical society where members say having the clock back is like finding a hidden treasure.

The clock's installation came before a major 1915 overhaul at the bank during a time of prosperity in Tamaqua.

"A rear addition and new vault were added to the bank building to make it larger," says Dale Freudenberger, society president. "During this same major renovation period, the building next door which presently houses the chamber of commerce was added. The bank originally rented that storefront to a business named '20th Century Shoe Store.'"

The original 1915 storefront is still intact. It was restored by the society about 15 years ago and is one of the oldest original storefronts on Broad Street."

Breiner said her father's hobby was restoring clocks and he had amassed a large collection by the time he died in 1980 at the age of 64. Lois Breiner's mother, the former Mary Kase, passed away several years ago and Lois was then faced with dealing with the estate.

The garage was to be sold and someone stepped forward and offered $800 if Lois would sell the big old clock. But Lois already had made up her mind. She wanted to do something her father would have liked.

"Why not give it back," she said, fighting back tears. Society trustee Jim Barron made arrangements to move the clock to the museum in July, 2008, with the help of several volunteers.

Among those lending a hand at the time were the Borough of Tamaqua, which loaned a forklift, and volunteers Allen Breiner, Jr., Gene Brode and Dave Lesniak. All were aware of the importance of the project and what the end result would mean to the town.

The clock remained on-site until the society was in a position to accept the financial challenge to restore it and reinstall it. The bills will total in excess of $10,000 and the society is working hard to meet that obligation. Not one penny of taxpayer money is being used in the project.

One informal estimate of the clock's value came in at $30,000, but it actually could be twice as much. Nobody is really sure. But it doesn't matter because the clock's sentimental value to the town is priceless.

"I was born in 1943 and I remember it," says resident Tom Banditelli.

Lois is emotional about the development because she feels she is finishing a mission begun by her dad.

"She cried when she first came to tell us about it," says Linda Yulanavage of the society.

Freudenberger said society members were speechless when they learned the news.

"Needless to say we were flabbergasted to find out that this original clock still existed! I had anticipated that this clock had gone to a scrap dealer decades ago."

Another secret

While the presentation of the clock was a surprise, there was still another surprise yet to come.

When workers at Bartush Sign Co., Orwigsburg, opened it up, they discovered that the clock held secrets of its own. Turns out, it is a musical clock.

It not only counts the hour and half-hour with gongs, but it plays the Westminster chimes and can be programmed to play Christmas songs and a full range of music.

There are many in town who remember the old clock, but nobody seems to recall that it played music.

"We had to have it upgraded to electronics," says Freudenberger.

The clock also benefited by a strengthening of lead joints in the stained glass - requirinig the glass to be sent out to a specialist, along with polishing bronze components and necessary refabrication of certain internal parts. The process took over 2-1/2 years.

It then took over eight hours on a cold December day to rewire the connections and rehang the clock using the original holes drilled into the sandstone face of the old bank building. A crane and boom hoisted the clock into position, a spectacle that stopped traffic and drew onlookers along Broad Street. The clock was back at full functioning status on December 6 at 4 p.m., giving Tamaqua a brand new, 101-year-old landmark.

The society intends to adjust the speakers and perform fine turning of the sound. Also, the clock is programmed to turn off at night so as not to disturb residents in the neighborhood.

The society is delighted to have a hand in returning a useful and decorative landmark to the Tamaqua National Historic District, a mission accomplished using only private funds.

In the coming weeks, a plaque will be installed beneath the clock, dedicated to the memory of Henry and Mary Breiner by daughter Lois and presented as a Christmas gift to the Greater Tamaqua Area community.

"I'm excited about this," says Lois.

Her long-held secret is out. And she couldn't be happier.

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