Wellesley Clock Tower bell not music to everyone’s ears

Concerns about noise from future night games at the Hunnewell Track & Field complex and from the current rapid fire pop of pickleballs near homes have generated their fair share of controversy in Wellesley. Now enter the hourly ringing of the bell at the nearly 100-year-old Sprague Memorial Clock Tower at Elm Park in Wellesley Hills as the latest sound to spark a complaint.

clock tower

The Natural Resources Commission this past week (shortly before the 50-minute mark of the Wellesley Media recording) discussed a neighbor’s complaint about the bell, which rings every hour from 9am-6pm daily. It had been ringing hourly from 7am-9pm before the resident raised the issue over the winter, and the resident’s request was to limit the ringing to once per day, according to NRC Director Brandon Schmitt. There was some murkiness around who actually defines the schedule, though it was determined that the bell controls have limitations that allow for hourly ringing but not for say, ringing every 3 hours.

The Sprague Memorial Clock Tower bell sound is classic, striking, and loud. The clock and bell were given to the “the town of Needham for the village of Grantville” initially in 1874 by resident John W. Shaw for a schoolhouse bearing his name that stood at the intersection of Forest and Washington Streets. The clock and bell later made their way to the tower, designed by architect Benjamin Proctor, Jr., and completed in 1928 (per Josh Dorin, who wrote on the subject for a 2016 Wellesley Townsman article).

“[T]he bell used to chime every hour, even throughout the night. This feature didn’t last long. Numerous residents complained — primarily the newer residents of town, as the old-timers were comforted by the familiar tones made by the striking of the bell,” Dorin wrote.

Sprague Memorial Clock Tower

I swung by the park over the weekend to record the sound, which I’ll admit—even though I knew it was coming—made me jump as I pressed play on my iPhone to capture the bell marking 1pm with 1 bold note.

The bell had been been out of commission for some time until last summer/fall when it returned to action after the bell hammer was rehabbed and other old hardware was replaced.

We had the good fortune of a DPW-led tour inside the clock tower back in 2013—the bell wasn’t working then (see  “Wellesley exclusive: Inside the Sprague Memorial Clock Tower”).

The town has slowly been making repairs to the woodwork around the top of the bell tower as well as to the staircase leading up to it, with plans to bring in a contractor for copper roof repairs and additional renovation, Park and Highway Superintendent Mike Quinn told us.

The Department of Public Works made a request in 2017 for Community Preservation Act funding for work on the clock tower, which along with the park, is on the National Register of Historic Places. In that Community Preservation Committee (CPC) request, it is stated that “the keeping of time and hourly ringing of the bells provide a tangible connection to a significant historic tradition in town…”

A line item for FY25 within the DPW portion of the 5-year capital budget shows $525K (with the CPC as the funding source) for clock tower work that goes beyond the initial consultant estimates. Look for spending on some design and scope of work in the upcoming year, with the actual rehab taking place in FY25.

“At this time I’m not inclined to change the schedule of the clock tower bell, but I could recommend that we would look at better controls when we redo the entire building in 2025,” the NRC’s Jay McHale said during the recent commission meeting.

The other commissioners agreed.

Sound is a subject that’s been on the minds of NRC members, and in fact we asked about sound during our pre-election interviews with NRC candidates earlier this year. The NRC has been conducting research on sound, and plans to work with the School Committee to come up with a consistent sound policy for NRC and School fields.

Sprague Memorial Clock Tower

Sprague Memorial Clock Tower