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Saving the Clayton County Clock Tower
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Saving the Clayton County Clock Tower

This summer, some new faces popped up at the Clayton County Courthouse. Since 2012, the Clayton County Historic Preservation Commission (CCHPC) has been heading up restoration efforts to restore the only remaining wooden clock tower in the state of Iowa and just a few weeks ago, the new clock faces were completed and installed on the clock tower. 

Members of the CCHPC toured the clock tower in 2012 and were shocked at the amount of deterioration it had experienced over the years. The paint on the base of the clock tower was badly chipped, wood was rotting in many places, the faces of the clock tower were in a serious state of deterioration and temporary patch jobs covered the tower base. Shortly after the tour, architect Doug Steinmetz was hired to help CCHPC map out the restoration work that needed to be done to restore the clock tower.

Based on a recommendation from Steinmetz, the CCHPC contacted Rory DeMise from Mechanical Watch Supply in Minneapolis to restore both the clock workings, dials and faces to the original condition they would have been in when first delivered to Elkader in 1896. DeMise acquired copies of the original clockwork information from the Smithsonian Museum, which he then used as templates to create new hands on each side of the clock tower. The hands are made from a redwood tree that is more than 400 years old. The dials are made from North Carolina white pine, just like the original dials would have been in 1896. For added protection of the dials, DeMise used a historic method called smelting, which involves adding a coating of ground glass that will protect the wooden base of the dials from moisture. DeMise also electrified the winding mechanism so the clocks will now wind automatically.

Additionally, all wood trim and the window sashes on the tower base have been stripped of paint, restored and repainted from the top of the columns to the underside of the windowsill. The balustrades received a similar treatment. New lighting has also been added to the clock faces.

Thus far, the CCHPC has received nearly $42,000 in grants and donations to help with the restoration of the clock tower. Commission members have donated approximately 800 hours of labor to the project as well. However, the most difficult and expensive part of the restoration has yet to be completed. CCHPC is hopeful the remaining restoration work on the clock and bell room portions of the tower will be completed next summer/fall. The costs to restore this upper portion of the clock tower are estimated to be $200,000 and CCHPC plans to apply for additional grants to help fund the final restoration work.  

If you would like to make a personal donation to help restore the clock tower, you may send a check made out to the Clayton County Auditor to the auditor’s office at PO Box 416 Elkader, IA 52043 with a note in the memo line “for CC Clock Tower Project.”

For updates on the restoration work of the clock, follow Main Street Elkader on Facebook.  



  1. Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    A fascinating post, and just in time!
  2. RovingPatrick
    What a great piece of history and tourist attraction that is being saved. I hope the fundraising goes well.

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