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As I was walking around downtown Waterbury, I couldn’t help but notice a clock tower standing proud to the southwest. Waterbury is well known as the Brass City, but it also has a rich history with timekeeping. Timex, was founded as The Waterbury Clock Company in 1854. The Seth Thomas Clock Company also had clock making operations nearby and operated a brass mill in Waterbury. I assumed the clock tower belonged to one of those businesses.
I was wrong, but not entirely.
The clock tower is part of Waterbury’s Union Station, but it was built by the Seth Thomas Company. The history of how it came to be built is interesting. Note: most of the information (and half of the photos) shared below is excerpted from the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form. Union Station was added to the Registry in 1974. I will also add that as a railroad buff, it’s a series of sad stories.
Waterbury’s Union Station Is advantageously sited at the intersection of two major streets. A public park to one side and a large plaza – now used for parking – in front provide ample open space and free the building from the crowding which afflicts many downtown stations. The tracks are to the rear of the station; access to the further tracks was provided by two tunnels, one from the station and one from a side street to the west. These are both blocked off now, though the latter still has its original iron railing around the opening. The platform shelters, of the “butterfly” type, have been removed. Most of the rail traffic is generated by the nearby freight yard. There are still four trains a day to Bridgeport, using rail diesel cars, but on the whole the track area has little left to suggest an active rail depot.
The building was purchased by the Waterbury Republic – American a newspaper formed from the merger of two formerly competing newspapers. Fitting, as probably the only industry in the US with a bleaker future than railroads is the newspaper industry. While the outside of the building has been well maintained, the inside is one of the sad stories. It has been carved up for the newspaper. A small seating area that was open in the mid-1970s has been closed, leaving no access to the interior.
The station has four major components: the large, box-like central part which contained the high-ceilinged waiting room and railroad offices on the upper floor, smaller and lower wings to the north and south and the tall clock tower. The whole is 350″ long and 50 feet wide and the tower rises to a height of 245′.
The main facade of the central part is dominated by three tall round-arched openings rising the height of the waiting room, the equivalent of two full stories. These were originally entirely glazed with small panes, but now they have been partially filled in where a new floor was inserted above the doors.
The tower is built on the southeast corner of the main building. Except for rows of tiny openings, it is plain for most of its height. Three quarters to the top, on all four sides is a clock face with Roman numerals. Above is a balcony supported on long, v tapered corbels which come together in the form of bluntly pointed arches. There are gargoyles on the corners of the balcony, and heraldic shields on the solid rail. Finally, there is a smaller belfry stage with large arched openings and another set of gargoyles. The belfry has a cornice of round-arched tapered corbels and a tiled lipped roof. Except for the height of the clock and the lack of battlements, the tower is a detailed copy of its prototype, the 14th-century Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy.
The clock tower was suggested, a year after construction began, by an executive of one of the railroads servicing the area. Rail was critically important to Waterbury, with over 65 trains a day passing through the station. It is thought that that model tower was chosen by the architects as a deliberate rebuke to architectural amateurs (the rail executive). Still, the tower remains one of the most prominent features in the Waterbury skyline.
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