by Tim Gilmore, 8/9/2016
A northbound car swerved into the lane of the bus moving south along Laura Street. It was all Henry Myers could do to steer the bus up on the curb, where it ploughed into the 15 foot tall cast-iron and bronze clock. Its column gave way and the four-faced globe smashed against the ground.
Behind the corpse of the clock, a bail bonds ad for Crews and Crews Associates peeped over the clock’s four golden lions with rings in their mouths.
The clock stopped at 7:07 pm. The date was July 31, 1974. The clock had kept the time at the Northwest Corner of Laura and Adams Streets since 1927.
More or less. For most of those 47 years, until the clock was fitted with a computerized timing system, someone had to rewind each of the clock’s four faces manually once a week. Sometimes North said 11:37 while East said 11:35.
Three months after the Great Fire of 1901, which destroyed almost all of today’s downtown Jacksonville, the City Council gave permission to the Greenleaf and Crosby Company, jewelers, to place the great clock, with its two-ton globe, before the newly rebuilt store at 41 West Bay Street.
The Greenleaf and Crosby Clock stood tall, shining and elegant amidst the destruction of the Southern city. The clock was one of 100 the renowned Seth Thomas Clock Company of Connecticut designed and built for cities around the nation. Including its installation, the clock cost Greenleaf and Crosby $1,200.
Damon Greenleaf had come to Jacksonville in 1867 to establish his jewelry store in the wake of the Civil War and J.H. Crosy had joined him in 1880. Half a century later, a quarter century after the Great Fire, Greenleaf and Crosby built a 12 story building at Laura and Adams. In 1927, the clock moved to its current location at the corner of the new Greenleaf and Crosby Building.
Three years later, Greenleaf and Crosby became Jacobs Jewelers, today considered the oldest jewelry store established in Florida.
When the bus blasted the great clock, the light globes at each corner shattered, the lions hissed like steam valves, and one side of the great globe caved in against the downtown ground.
Jacobs Jewelers hired Tommy White to restore its clock. On November 13, 1974, The Florida Times-Union reported that White’s real passion was for fixing calliopes, the loud and distinctive circus instruments also known as steam organs. White preferred the pronunciation KAL-ee-ohp (“It’s what circus people call ’em”) to that of the Greek muse kə-LY-ə-pee. The article mentioned White’s “loss of one hand,” without saying how he lost it.
Now 115 years old, the clock most recently underwent a removal in 2011 and restoration in 2013.
Of the original 100 identical clocks the Seth Thomas Company stood upon America’s streets, the Greenleaf and Crosby is one of 12 that remain. I want to stare into it, face to face, but I keep trying to corner it, and lunchtime businessmen grant me a wide and wide-eyed berth.