NEWTOWN, CONN. — The Newtown Historical Society recently received a gift of a rare tall case clock made by Ebenezer Smith, who was not only Newtown’s first clockmaker but was probably the only one here in the Eighteenth Century.
Smith was born in Milford, Conn., in 1745. He is thought to have moved to Newtown with his parents sometime after 1750. In December 1767, he received the rights to his parents’ house in Newtown’s Newbury Parish on Whisconier Hill Road. A year later Smith married Esther Booth of Newtown. At that time, Smith was 23 and Esther was 21. Smith served in the Revolutionary War during the siege of Danbury. Esther died in 1821 and Ebenezer died in Newtown in 1830. No record has been found of any children.
The town of Brookfield was incorporated in 1788 and the section of Whisconier Hill where the Smiths lived then became part of Brookfield. Ebenezer and Esther’s house and shop still stand today and appear to be in excellent condition. Coming off I-84 at Exit 9 and traveling up Whisconier Hill (Route 25) toward Brookfield, the house on the left. It is a wonderful center chimney home with a half story ell where Smith’s forge was located. The house is painted pale yellow and there is a red barn across the street.
Smith was a rural craftsman and probably made a living producing utilitarian items of iron, tin, pewter and sometimes silver. A few examples of his crafts are still extant. We know he made several tall case clocks with engraved brass dials. Note: the term “grandfather clock” did not become common until the late Nineteenth Century. Tall case clocks were a rare and highly prized item in the Eighteenth–early Nineteenth Century as they cost about one year’s income for the average family. As a result, these clocks were usually made for the wealthy.
Such a clock is the one that has been given to the Newtown Historical Society. Nothing is known of its history from the time it left Ebenezer Smith’s workshop until it came into the possession of the Jackson family of Newtown, probably in the late 1940s. Mary and Jerome Jackson, originally from Massachusetts, summered in Sandy Hook with their three sons before becoming year-round residents in the early 1930s. They lived in the white antique house on Berkshire Road across from Zoar Road.
Mary and Jerome collected antiques and their son, Jerome (Jerry) P. Jackson, collected clocks. Jerome Sr, born in 1875, was a graduate of MIT and a World War I veteran. Mary was a Wellesley College graduate and studied at Oxford University in England, a noteworthy accomplishment in a time when not many women attended college. She was a member of the Suffragist Party, working hard to try to win the vote for women.
After retiring from his career as an architect, Jerome ran Newtown Home Service with his two sons, George and Jerry, doing building and restorations in the area. The family was very active in Newtown, especially in the historical society (charter members), the Congregational Church (historian and clerk) and the League of Women Voters. Jerome died in September 1958, Mary died in May 1972, and their son, Jerry, who never married, lived on in the home in Sandy Hook until his death in 1977. At that time the Smith tall clock passed on to Jerome and Mary’s granddaughter, Martha Jackson Harris, who lives in New Hampshire.
For many years, Martha felt the appropriate permanent place for the clock would be at the Newtown Historical Society. In 2012, she contacted the society and was assured the clock would be a very welcome addition to its collection. Arrangements were made and the clock returned “home” last month.
Harris has made this gift in honor of her grandparents and in memory of the many happy times she spent through the years at their home in Sandy Hook. We are thrilled that this wonderful part of Newtown history has now returned home to stay.
The clock, probably Smith’s finest, now stands in the Matthew Curtiss Jr House Museum where it can be enjoyed by visitors. The case is cherry wood, in the Federal style and was most likely made by a skilled, but country cabinetmaker who possibly lived in Danbury or Woodbury. Because of the case style, we know this clock was made sometime after the Revolutionary War. In the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries clockmakers did not make the cases. They made the “works” or “movements” and the case was made separately, ordered either by the clockmaker or the customer. This clock, an excellent timekeeper, has an eight-day brass movement and a brass dial engraved “Eben Smith” along with an inset calendar ring. Jerome P. Jackson and this clock are mentioned in the landmark book, The Book of American Clocks by Brooks Palmer, published in 1950 and still available.
Color pictures of the Smith Clock, his home and workshop can be viewed on the Newtown Historical Society at www.newtownhistory.org
Editor’s note: Lincoln Sander is the past president of the Newtown Historical Society; he is a longtime member of the NAWCC (National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors). He is also the executive director of The Antiques Dealers’ Association of America Inc.