The West­minster chimes were installed in the Hillsdale County Cour­t­house tower in 1910. Flickr

After being silenced for more than 20 years, the sounds of the West­minster chimes from the Hillsdale County Cour­t­house can be heard once again.

Last month, facility director for Hillsdale County Randy Finley and his crew climbed more than seven flights of stairs and ladders to the top of the clock tower to install new electric relays for the chimes. As a result, every hour on the hour, the clock plays the same tune as the church of St. Mary the Great in Cam­bridge.

One of numerous flights of stairs leading to the top of the county cour­t­house clock tower. Thomas Novelly |Col­legian

“We got the old clock working again,” Finley said. “It has been broken for over two decades. We had a bid from a clock tower repair firm for more than $6,000. But we did it our­selves for $45. People like it, everyone seems to enjoy the chimes.”

The West­minster chimes and the cour­t­house clock itself have a more than 100 year history in downtown Hillsdale. Shortly after the ded­i­cation of the current cour­t­house in 1899, res­i­dents in the town thought it would be the perfect place for a clock.

According to news­paper articles and primary source doc­u­ments pro­vided by the Mitchell Research Center, the clock was donated by William W. Mitchell — a two year attendee of Hillsdale College  — in 1910.

In a pam­phlet cel­e­brating a 75-year reded­i­cation and ren­o­vation of the clock tower, Mitchell’s original com­ments and thoughts on the project were printed.

“The town should make tender of a clock and chime of bells to be placed in the tower of the cour­t­house for the use of the people of Hillsdale County,” the pam­phlet said.

The bells that have been recently rewired to play the West­minster chimes every quarter hour. Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

Sometime in the 1960s, however, the chimes stopped. While primary source doc­u­ments are vague in pin­pointing a date or con­crete reason as to why the chimes stopped, an article in the News Adver­tiser in 1985 stated that it was due to a judge who found them annoying and dis­ruptive to his courtroom.

“A former circuit judge was behind getting the four bells dis­con­nected,” the article said. “They were too loud for his liking.”

Due to harsh weather and lack of use, the bells even­tually fell into dis­repair. The capital cam­paign headed by the Hillsdale His­torical Society and other bene­factors aimed to bring back the chimes and do a com­plete ren­o­vation including cleaning and sand­blasting the foun­da­tions and beams, removing out­dated elec­tronics, and installing new motors for the chimes.

By the fall of 1985, the Omega Tower Clock Cor­po­ration had com­pletely ren­o­vated and rein­stalled the chimes. The clock, which played chimes every 15 minutes, and then the full West­minster chime on the hour, brought joy to many people in town. The pam­phlet passed out during the ded­i­cation in 1985 printed tes­ti­monies of numerous people who remem­bered it from their youth in the early 20th century.  

“Marna J. Playford recalled vis­iting her grand­father who was County Sheriff at the Old Jail Building at the ‘Cour­t­house Square,’” the pam­phlet said. “She would listen to the chimes every 15 minutes. Being able to hear them again will bring back many happy mem­ories of visits with her grand­parents.”

But bad luck, much like the clock, struck again. While Finley said he couldn’t pin­point the exact time the chimes stopped working again, he knew it was at least two decades since res­i­dents stopped hearing them. Until recently, res­i­dents would not hear the West­minster chime on every quarter or full hour, instead hearing just one chime every hour.

Finley said he was happy to bring some history back with his staff.

“It’s a good feeling to have the chimes back,” Finley said. “It’s even more special when your department can accom­plish a task like this, some­thing outside of their usual day-to-day activ­ities.”


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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
  • Gra­ma­janice

    Thank you so much Thomas. As a life long Hillsdale res­ident I appre­ciate the Local news you all add to the Col­legian.

  • Craig Playford

    Thank you for the inter­esting article. I grew up in Hillsdale in the 50’s and 60’s, not far from downtown. I remember the chimes from my childhood. Marna [sic] J. Playford was my mom, Myrna Jean Playford. I remember her talking about spending time at the county jail with her granddad Charles Weston, who was Hillsdale County Sheriff.