By David Roten
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The relentless cadence that has for ages been synonymous with the passing of time can still be heard every second, of every minute, of every hour of the day in the clock room atop the historic Newton County Courthouse. It is the sound of the tower clock faithfully measuring and marking time—something it has done, with few interruptions, since it was installed in 1885. While you may have never been close enough to hear the ticking of the clock, if you have been in downtown Covington at the top of any hour, you will have heard the familiar ringing of the original clock tower bell, also installed in 1885. If you paused to look up, you may have seen the dial that is the “face” of the clock hidden inside.
Tower clocks are not uncommon, and clearly, they are about more than just keeping time. Daniel Jeffries, who grew up in Covington, volunteers his time to perform monthly maintenance on the clock. “I think it is just one of those symbols,” he said. “Every community likes a center point, and our Square is beautiful. It’s kind of the crowning point on the Square.” For Jeffries, the connection to the clock runs on a deeper, more personal level. He recalled how, as a 5-year-old, he accompanied his grandfather, who had been called to repair a part on the clock. It was love at first sight. That love has grown into a lifetime fascination with clocks that his family shares. “If you live in my house,” Jeffries said, “you just about have to [have the fascination].”
One of the unique things about the Newton County Courthouse, according to Jeffries, is that it is one of the few courthouses left in Georgia that actually has a mechanical, ticking clock, complete with a timing mechanism (pictured, front cover of the 2019 Winter Issue). Since its restoration in 2004, the tower bell has been activated electrically. Jeffries is not the only one concerned about the clock and how it operates, or even how well it operates.
“Everybody expects the clock to be right, ’cause they will sure enough let us know when it’s wrong,” he said with a laugh. The clock can run fast or slow, depending on such factors as temperature, humidity and ice, or birds on the clock hands. As-needed adjustments and monthly maintenance keep the clock running smoothly and accurately. Jeffries will tell you it is a labor of love he hopes will continue for a long time: “My plan is to do it till I can’t climb stairs anymore.”
It is ironic but true: There is something timeless about the courthouse tower clock, something comforting, though indefinable, about a bell that has rung the same tone for the last 133-plus years. The ticking clock, the luminous dial and the ringing bell all remind us of what was, what is and what is yet to come. For all of us, time marches on.