If you have ever visited Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, home of the state’s former governor Westmoreland Davis, you most likely spied a Chelsea Clock Ship’s Bell Clock displayed in a very unusual and interesting way. If not, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to this remarkable historic setting.
The centerpiece of the estate’s “Trophy Room” is an eight-foot-long wooden airplane propeller with a Chelsea 6-inch Ship’s Bell Clock proudly displayed in its center. And we are pleased to report that Chelsea Clock recently completed the restoration of this special mechanical timepiece, originally presented to Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis in 1918, and now part of the historic setting’s permanent collection.
According to Teresa Davenport, Assistant Director of Development and Communications at Morven Park, the “propeller clock” was presented to Governor Davis by a military pilot as a memento commemorating the Governor’s first flight aboard a plane on September 3, 1918.
“Governor Davis was the first Virginia governor to ever fly in a plane,” says Davenport. “This highly publicized event was part of a military tournament staged by the United States Army Air Corps. at the start of WWI.” Newspaper accounts of the historic 30-minute flight report the battle plane left from the Virginia State Fair grounds and circled over the city of Richmond at “an altitude of 3,000 feet to the thunderous applause of 10,000 spectators below.”
Chelsea Clock records indicate that the 6-inch dial Ship’s Bell striking mechanical clock was manufactured by the company in the early part of 1918, and was originally sold to the Nowland Company. Unfortunately, no further information is available to trace the sale of the clock from the Nowland Company to the pilot, nor who may have mounted it to the inside of the propeller to create the commemorative gift.
“It’s wonderful to discover that a Chelsea clock played a role in this fascinating historical event,” notes Chelsea Clock CEO JK Nicholas. “Our company has an incredibly long and storied history of making precision timepieces for the US military. We are pleased and proud to add this interesting chapter to the Chelsea legacy.”
According to Ms. Davenport, the propeller clock had not been operational for as long as the staff could recall. At some point in its history, a small padlock had been placed on the clock’s solid brass case and the key was never found. So no one was ever able to open the bezel and wind the timepiece, which meant, unfortunately, it sat quiet for many decades.
“But this piece has long been one of the most beloved items in the Park’s collection,” adds Davenport. As a non-profit organization, Morven Park’s ongoing operating expenses and limited budget meant that returning the clock to working order was something we just could not afford. So, when Chelsea Clock offered to restore this piece, we were delighted. It is now back in its place of honor, keeping perfect time and once again inspiring admiring comments from our visitors.”
Master clockmakers at Chelsea Clock spent several weeks carefully restoring this timepiece to its original working condition. First, technicians removed the padlock using locksmith tools to access internal mechanisms. All parts and gold-plated brass gears were removed, cleaned, calibrated, and oiled and then carefully re-assembled. The clock’s original mainspring was removed and replaced with a new one, and the Ship’s Bell patented chiming mechanism was adjusted. Finally, the clock was tested for two weeks to ensure proper operation and accuracy. At the request of Morven Park, the exterior of the nickel-plated brass case was not refurbished, opting rather to retain the authenticity and weathered look of this vintage piece.
About Morven Park
A National Register Historic Property, Morven Park was for 40 years the home of Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis. More than 75,000 people visit Morven Park each year, enjoying entertaining and educational programming at its three museums and multifaceted equestrian center, and experiencing its beautiful scenery, historic gardens, sports fields, and hiking trails, all within its 1,200-plus acres. The public is invited to events in every season, including Civil War reenactments, equestrian competitions, festivals, and hands-on learning programs. For more information about Morven Park and to view the Trophy Room where the restored Chelsea Clock Ship’s Bell is displayed, visit www.morvenpark.com