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Lost Chattanooga: The Fischer Evans Clock (Updated)

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I have always been fascinated with clocks, so naturally, I became immediately enamored by the Fischer Evans post clock that once stood at the southwest corner of Eighth and Market Streets in Downtown Chattanooga. Some of you may remember the thirteen-foot street clock before it was damaged by a truck in 2002. For those too young, newish to Chattanooga, or who didn’t take much notice, you probably have passed its faded blue iron base in front of the Fischer Evans store. If a curiosity drew you to read its polished brass plaque, you know it begins, “Erected 1883 by W. F. Fischer & Brother.” But don’t trust that information… entirely.

In blurred images from 1886, the profile of the case was visibly different from recent photographs I’d seen of the clock. With a little sleuthing and the outside help of Thomas Manning, the curator of clocks of the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, Connecticut, and fellow local historians, it was determined that there was an earlier clock. The first clock of an unknown maker or model was placed in 1883 when Fischer & Bros. expanded to the corner of Eighth and Market Streets. The later clock was a model from the E. Howard, a clock and watchmaker from Boston. E. Howard made post or sidewalk clocks from the 1870s through the early part of the 20th century. There are many of the same original clocks still operational, including a restored example at the American Clock & Watch Museum. This particular E. Howard model has been widely copied, and reproductions can be purchased today using the same antique molds cast in aluminum.

W. F. Fischer & Bro. Co. during the 1886 flood

According to E. Howard’s sales records, W. F. Fischer & Bro. Co. purchased the clock in 1912, probably in anticipation of the coming 50th anniversary Civil War reunions in 1913. And a 1907 high-resolution photograph of the clock, it’s clearly a different case style from the E. Howard we know.

TW. F. Fischer & Bro. history

In November 1869, William F. Fischer opened a small firm offering watches and jewelry. In 1870, William’s younger brother, Lewis L. Fischer, joined the venture, and W.F. Fischer & Bro. was instituted. In 1883, they installed a massive iron post clock in front of their newest store as a beacon to encourage shoppers to stop in and visit. There were several jewelers, dental parlors, photography studios, dry good and department stores fighting for consumer’s attention with lighted and carved trade signs and clever sidewalk displays. Between Ninth (what is now M.L. King Boulevard) and Seventh Streets, Market Street was a commercial hub where a family of the day and visitors could buy just about anything.

The clock stood sturdy through 1900, through numerous downtown floods and a major D. B. Lovemans across the street, severely damaging several other buildings surrounding their store.

Sometime in the 1920s, their former Vice President, T.H. McClure, bought W. F. Fischer & Bro., following the death of Lewis Fischer. As with most businesses facing the Great Depression, McClure had to make some hard decisions and downsized the store to the end closest to Broad Street while renting out the Market Street frontage to make ends meet. When McClure passed, his daughter and first cousin ran daily operations. In 1956, Carter Evans purchased the jeweler and changed the name to Fischer Evans in 1963. Howard and Becky Glover bought Fischer Evans in 1970 and have operated it for the past 44 years.

Fischer Evans Jewelers, 1960s

The clock went through several changes through the 20th century. Local newspaper accounts said that the clock was illuminated in the early teens. Also, the clock face changed from black to white.

In 1935, a street-widening project moved the clock approximately a foot closer to the store façade. The same year, the owners tried to gift the clock to the city, but Chattanooga refused to accept the gesture. In 1940, the clock was “presented to the people of Chattanooga as a tribute to W.F. Fischer and Lewis L. Fischer” by T.H. McClure.

In 1954, the Double-Cola Company stepped up and took an extended responsibility to repair the clock, which had been converted to electric to automate and simplify maintenance.

The clock was damaged by sewer work in 1978. With ownership still unclear, the Glovers took new responsibility of the clock, stripped its layers of paint and renovated it.

In 1992, the clock, once again, received a thorough renovation. The interior works were modernized and both faces replaced.

After the accident in 2002, the clock head and pieces were sent to the Cincinnati Company in Ohio to be repaired.

Update:

Back in April of 2014, I wrote my first Lost Chattanooga article, revealing newly discovered history about the Fischer Evans clock. The story was a culmination of three months of research and a lot of amateur detective work.

A few months later, I found what remains of the clock in a warehouse in Ohio. It’s been consciously stored at The Verdin Company, a bell and clock manufacturer that was founded in 1842. The clock was sent there to be repaired.

As you can see, the clock is badly damaged. 

In my previous rally to return the clock to its orphaned base, I mentioned the overwhelming encouragement I’ve received during my journey to piece together its history. It’s clear that the Fischer Evans clock remains in the conscience of Chattanoogans as a lost icon that continues to be a catalyst for conversation, nostalgia, and shared memories.

In 2003, the estimated cost to restore the clock was just over $50,000. As of 2014, it was closer to $80,000.  A good reproduction would cost around $30,000.

In 2019,  no one has stepped forward with enough interest to restore or replace the clock. For now, the Fischer Evans clock will remain history.

*This article was originally written in 2014, but edited and updated in June 2019.

Fischer Evans Jewelers, 1960s

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Rodger Castleberry
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Rodger Castleberry

This wonderful clock must be reclaimed, restored / renovated, returned to its last previous location. Unlike so much of Chattanooga’s history and memorable icons, lost to greed, ignorance, politics, convenience and, yes, even graft, this well written article needs broadcast further than here in a small aspect of Facebook. Local, State and, possibly, Federal aid should be sought and implored, or coerced, to Fund the Fischer-Evans Historic Timepiece and its re-installation.

© 2019 David Moon.  All rights reserved.