In Lawrence, everybody knows what time it is by looking at the Ayer Mill Clock Tower. And today, they’ll prove they care with a centennial celebration for the four-sided, 267-foot-tall landmark.
“We hope it’s a symbol of the continued revitalization of Lawrence,’’ said Jay Caporale, executive vice president of the Essex County Community Foundation.
The clock tower, with its 22-foot clock dials, is one of the tallest in the world, the foundation says. “The fact that it was so enormous was a tremendous sense of pride to all the laborers who worked in these massive textile mills,’’ said Barbara Brown, executive director of the Lawrence History Center.
The tower’s history has paralleled that of the city itself. The tower at the Ayer Mill complex on South Union Street went up at a time when tens of thousands of workers poured in and out of Lawrence’s mills every day.
“That clock tower was a central visual symbol to the greater community on the importance of the mills and the workers,’’ said Caporale. “It tolled at curfew, it chimed to call workers to work, it called them to worship. The city was almost managed and guided by the clock tower.’’
But by the middle of the 20th century, the mills were emptying out and Lawrence began its long economic decline. The clock stopped working, the bell disappeared, and the tower fell into disrepair. In 1991, though, the community raised $1 million to restore the clock, including casting a new bell.
There’s a nearly $500,000 endowment for the tower’s maintenance and care under the jurisdiction of the foundation. Currently they’re near completion of a $30,000 fund-raising effort to install new, efficient lighting on the clock faces. Once again Lawrence is enduring tough times, from the foreclosure crisis to City Hall controversy. But local leaders hope the tower will continue to be a beacon.
“We now have a new wave of immigrants that are in the process of making their way toward the American dream, and we think that symbol of Lawrence nicely bridges the past, the current immigrants and future immigrants,’’ said Caporale.
The free public event will be held at 2 p.m. today in the courtyard at the History Center, 6 Essex St., looking across the Merrimack River to the tower. There will be several speakers and the bell will ring 100 times, for the tower’s 100 years. More information is at www.lawrencehistorycenter.org.