The bells in the Volusia County Historic Courthouse clock tower in Downtown DeLand have been silent for about two years.
The minute and hour hands on one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks lag as time ticks by. The four clock faces show different times — all wrong.
A little less than a year ago, county officials began searching for someone who could do a permanent overhaul of the clock. Several things had to happen first — safety upgrades to the clock tower, hiring an expert engineer to write the scope of the work, and a nationwide search for a company qualified to execute improvements to the 90-year-old clockwork.
According to Volusia County Facilities Management Director George Baker, the selection process is finally almost over.
A Cincinnati-based firm, The Verdin Co., the largest manufacturer of clocks and bells in the world, is in line to be awarded the project. Final approval by the County Council is scheduled for Tuesday, April 16, the same day the Volusia County Historic Courthouse will receive a dedicated state historic designation.
Every effort will be made to keep the clock’s historic appearance, while modernizing the works.
“When we get into a project like this, we like to keep the appearances original-looking, just with sophisticated updates and controls,” Brian Straits, a representative of The Verdin Co., said.
“It will look and sound the same,” Baker said.
The clock currently runs, or fails to run, with entirely mechanical parts, many of which cannot be replaced because they are no longer manufactured.
The planned improvements include installing an electronic motor to replace the aging gearbox and brass gears, and electronic clappers to strike the original bells. The hands on the four outer clock faces will be replaced with hands identical to the originals.
“This is a long-term fix,” Baker said. “We’re not disposing of anything.”
The electronics will include a computer that will automatically update during daylight saving time, for example, as well as synchronizing the bell strikes with the hands of the clock.
The electronics also come with a remote control, an exciting prospect for facility workers, who previously had to crawl inside to set the mechanical clappers, or use a crane to adjust the hands on the outside.
“Before, every time the power went out they had to crawl up there,” Straits said.
“We kinda felt like Igor, or, you know, Quasimodo,” Baker said. “After this, if I need to have a 21-gong salute, I’ll be able to program that with the remote.”
The Verdin Co.’s bid for the total cost of the repairs and rehabilitation is $71,625. A three-year maintenance agreement will cost the county an additional $4,620.
“Once done, Verdin will perform annual preventative maintenance, and if something fails, they’ll come out and replace it,” Baker said.
The timeline for the repairs will be set after the County Council votes on the contract award.
“I’m excited because, good Lord, we’ve been fiddling around with this for years,” Baker said. “So it’ll be great to get it all done. The clock bells — it’s a pleasant sound.”
Completed in 1929 for a cost of $500,000, the courthouse was described as one of the most beautiful county administration buildings in the South.
It featured fluted Corinthian columns, vaulted arches, marble staircases, a distinctive copper-clad dome, and an interior cupola featuring a stained-glass dome
Additionally, it had elaborate twin facades containing ornate balustrades and terra-cotta entablature.
The dedication ceremony on Nov. 18, 1929, was attended by more than 3,000 locals who enjoyed a pork barbecue, concerts from the Stetson University Orchestra and the DeLand Concert Band, and circus performers provided by the Johnny J. Jones Show.
In 1987, the Volusia County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the Downtown DeLand Historic District.
Volusia County completed a lengthy restoration project in 2005, restoring the popular landmark’s exterior to its former glory.