A timeless piece of downtown Columbus history was lifted out of the sidewalk late Thursday afternoon by a wrecker, placed on a trailer and hauled off to Indiana.
The Brown Street sidewalk clock that also served as a sign for Lane’s Jewelers at 1110 Broadway was sold to a private collector. The sale came as Lane’s co-owners Barry Harbin and his sister, Vicki Spano, liquidate the business’s assets as part of shutting down the 55-year-old family store.
Their father, Marion Lane Harbin, started the jewelry store in 1962 and his son took over in 1982 when Marion retired.
One of the toughest things Barry had to do was tell his 97-year-old father the clock had been sold and was leaving town.
“He was sentimental about it and he wanted it to stay here,” Barry said. “We talked about it over Thanksgiving and he became a little misty eyed.”
As the process of closing the store progressed, it became obvious the sign was one of the things of value.
“My dad thinks the sign has been in downtown Columbus for about 100 years,” Barry said.
The math works.
Through the clock left on trailer being towed by a pickup truck, it likely came here in a railroad car before the first World War.
The Brown Street Clock Company manufactured street clocks in Monessen, Pa., which is outside of Pittsburgh, from just before 1910 into the 1920s. They were sold primarily to jewelry stores as “the best signs in the world.”
Marion Harbin worked for a jeweler at 1104 Broadway in the 1950s, and when that store went out of business, he purchased the inventory and opened Lane’s, drawing the store’s name from his middle name. He also purchased the clock from another jewelry store in the 1100 block of Broadway.
“It was Feffer’s or Pfeffer’s,” Vicky said. “Dad bought it when Pfeffer’s went out of business.”
In about 1972, Lane’s moved his store from 1104 to its location at 1110. The clock moved with it. Out front of that store is where it has rested for the past 45 years.
Barry had the clock appraised as part of the closing of the business.
“The appraisal came back at between $6,000 and $8,000,” Barry said.
The clocks were sold for as little as $175 — and usually on credit — a century ago, according to an online history of the Brown Street Clock Company.
The Historic Columbus Foundation talked to Barry Harbin about purchasing the clock and keeping it in the city, said Justin Krieg, director of planning and programs for the foundation.
“We just never were able to work it out,” Krieg said. “It is always disappointing when you lose a landmark. Frankly, I am sure Barry was playing a waiting game to see if we could make something work.”
And he certainly doesn’t blame the owners for selling the distinctive timepiece.
“It is kind of like the farmer who owns the 100 acres of land and is selling it to a developer who will subdivide it and sell 1 acre lots,” Krieg said. “That farmer has worked his whole life and that land is part of his retirement. That building — and by extension the clock — are part of his retirement.”
Barry won’t say the price paid by the collector in Indiana.
The fact the clock was even discovered is part of the story. There were 60 known Brown Street sidewalk clocks operating across the country. Most of them were in the Northeast and along the Pacific Coast.
The collector approached Barry in September about buying the clock. It seems someone who knew the man was in Columbus for a military graduation and sent a picture of it back to Indiana.
That stands to reason, because according to a 2014 map of Brown Street clock locations across the country, the one in Columbus was not shown.
But people in Columbus knew it was here. Until its final day in Columbus, the clock was still running, but the time was not always reliable.
Roger Stinson, owner of Chancellor’s, the men’s clothing store next door, noticed the hole in the sidewalk and empty space Friday morning.
“It was strange,” said Stinson, who has worked in or owned that store for more than 30 years. “I always tell people we are in the same block as CB&T and next door to the clock on the sidewalk.”
Well, CB&T is now Synovus and the clock on the sidewalk is somewhere in Indiana.
Times are changing.