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Michigan Marvels: The Chelsea clock tower

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It once had a secret identity as a firefighter. It now stands as an icon of Chelsea.

The Chelsea clock tower started its life in 1907 high above the Glazier Stove Works building. Frank Glazier, who had a booming business making heaters and stoves, decided to move across the tracks and build a new complex after the loss of two of his buildings to fire in 1894.

The cornerstone would be a Victorian industrial building 60,000 square feet that would have the dual function of being both a clock and a water storage tank that could feed the sprinkler systems and fire hoses needed to guard his business. When it was first built, it could hold 20,000 gallons of water but was later expanded to hold 35,000. It is unclear when it stopped being used as a water tower. 

"Most people now think of the clock tower's main function as telling time," said Jan Bernath, a board member of the Chelsea Area Historical Society. "Over the distance of time, we don't even think of the original function anymore."

Erected in 1906, the clock faces — north, south, east, and west — were added the next year and could be seen across the area as the building was the tallest in Washtenaw County at the time.  A September 26, 1907 edition of the Chelsea Standard-Herald newspaper declared, "There are four seven-foot dials on four sides of the tower, which can be seen for a considerable distance from Chelsea. The dials will be illuminated at night with electric lights that enables our citizens to get the correct time day or night."

"It had huge bells inside, ranging from 300-1200 pounds, and would chime on every quarter hour," said Bernath, who wasn't sure when the bells stopped working but could remember them ringing as a child in the 1940's.

Glazier was also the state treasurer from 1904-1908 but declared bankruptcy in 1907. Since then, the building has changed hands numerous times and served as a producer of automobile parts, World War II weapons, paper products and was home to Real Ale, the state's first craft brewery. 

"What I find really interesting is that you can go to different places where Chelsea has a logo and often times the clock tower is on it," said Bernath. "It's the iconic symbol of Chelsea."