I have always been overly fascinated with clocks. So naturally, I became immediately enamored by the Fischer Evans post clock that once stood at the southwest corner of Eighth and Market.
Some of you may remember the street clock before it was removed by a truck vs. clock accident in 2002. For those too young, new to Chattanooga or who didn’t take much notice, you may have passed the 6-plus-foot bluish iron base in front of the Fischer Evans store.
If a curiosity drew you to read the polished brass plaque that’s attached to the base, you know it begins, "Erected 1883 by W. F. Fischer & Brother."
Was the clock that most living Chattanoogans remember the same one first erected in 1883? Even in blurred images, the profile of the case was visibly different from recent photographs I'd seen. At first, I thought that a weathered or repainted gilded paint scheme was playing tricks with shadows and light. One day, I would be convinced there were two clocks; another, I was sure there was only one. It took some patience; sleuthing; and the outside help of Thomas Manning, curator of clocks of the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, Connecticut, and local history enthusiast Sam Hall of DeepZoomChattanooga.com; to come to a clear conclusion.
Yes, there were two clocks. E. Howard, a clock and watchmaker from Boston, is clearly stamped on the door of the existing base. E. Howard made post or sidewalk clocks from the 1870s through the early part of the 20th century. There are many of the same model still operational, including a restored example at the American Clock & Watch Museum. This particular model was also widely copied, and reproductions can be purchased today using the same antique molds cast in aluminum.
According to E. Howard’s sales records, W. F. Fischer & Bro. Co. purchased the clock in 1912. And a 1907 high-resolution photograph of the clock, provided by Sam Hall via The Public Library, is clearly a different style from the E. Howard we know. You can see the bottom metal banner (left) on the earlier clock that says "Fischer & Bro." and what looks like a ram or animal head in the top center.
The Fischer brothers history
In November 1869, William F. Fischer opened a small firm offering watches and jewelry. In 1870, William’s younger brother, Lewis L. Fischer, joined the venture, and W.F. Fischer & Bro. was instituted. In 1883, they installed a massive iron post clock in front of the store as a beacon to move shoppers to stop in and visit. There were several jewelers, dental parlors, photography studios, dry good and department stores with smaller outdoor timepieces, carved trade signs and clever sidewalk displays to catch the attention of the passing consumer. Between Ninth (what is now M.L. King Boulevard) and Seventh streets, Market Street was a commercial hub where a civilized late 19th- and early 20th-century family could buy anything.
The clock stood sturdy through 1900, through numerous downtown floods and a major fire, when Loveman’s burned, severely damaging several other buildings surrounding their store. The fire jumped as far as the Dome Building, doing minimal harm, according to period accounts.
Sometime in the 1920s, then-company Vice President T.H. McClure bought W. F. Fischer & Bro., following the death of Lewis "Lou" Fischer. As with most businesses facing the Great Depression, McClure had to make some hard business decisions and downsized the store to the end closest to Broad Street while renting out the Market Street frontage for additional income. When McClure passed, his daughter and first cousin ran daily operations. In 1956, Carter Evans purchased the jeweler and changed the name to Fischer Evans in 1963. Howard and Becky Glover bought Fischer Evans in 1970 and have operated it for the past 44 years.
The clock went through several changes through the 20th century. Local newspaper accounts said that the clock was illuminated in the early teens. Also, the clock face changed from black to white.
In 1935, a street-widening project moved the clock approximately a foot closer to the store façade. The same year, the owners tried to gift the clock to the city, but Chattanooga refused to accept the gesture. In 1940, the clock was "presented to the people of Chattanooga as a tribute to W.F. Fischer and Lewis L. Fischer" by T.H. McClure.
In 1954, the Double-Cola Company stepped up and took an extended responsibility to repair the clock, which had been converted to electric to automate and simplify maintenance.
The clock was damaged by sewer work in 1978. With ownership still unclear, the Glovers took new responsibility of the clock, stripped its layers of paint and renovated it.
In 1992, the clock, once again, received a thorough renovation. The interior works were modernized and both faces replaced.
It was sent to the Cincinnati Company in Ohio to be repaired after the truck hit it. Because of a question of future liability if another accident should occur and the chance of additional danger to the public, the clock was not returned to its base.
A return of the clock
When I’ve asked people about what they would love to have back in Chattanooga that time has lost, my top three responses are Cameron Hill, the Union Depot and the Fischer Evans clock. Sadly, Cameron Hill will probably never be put back. Union Depot deserves a better and more visible tribute to its importance to the city, and I think that’s coming soon, with recent talk of a rail renaissance in Chattanooga. The Fischer Evans clock—I think I can tackle that. Or, at least, I can do my best.
At the time of the article, all I can say is that I’ve been working very hard to orchestrate a well-deserved return of this Chattanooga icon and, more importantly, ensure its future on Market Street for the next 131 years.
There's a future for this clock. And for those who care and remember, stay tuned.
David Moon is a marketing specialist and Chattanooga history enthusiast. This year, he started Picnooga, a historic image preservation project and Facebook page that digitally preserves and shares photos of Chattanooga’s past. Follow David on Twitter, like Picnooga on Facebook, or email him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.