The iconic Biddeford City Hall clock tower, designed by a well-known architect at the height of the city’s prosperity, is now notable for a new distinction: It has been named one of the most endangered historic properties in Maine.

The clock tower, which dates to 1894, is one of eight properties listed on Maine Preservation’s annual list of “Most Endangered Historic Properties.” It is joined by the Lincoln Mill clock tower, which for more than 100 years sat atop the textile mill across from Biddeford City Hall.

Now both clock towers, facing years of deferred maintenance, could be lost if the money is not raised to fix and preserve them, according to the group. Efforts to fund renovations to the City Hall clock tower have failed in recent years. The Lincoln Mill clock tower was removed years ago and now sits on the ground near the former textile mill. A local historian and group of high school students spearheaded an effort to raise $25,000 that saved the Lincoln Mill clock tower from demolition, but face an uphill battle to raise money to restore the structure.

“Looking across the street at Lincoln Mill, the bell tower there is a twin to the one at City Hall. Those two domes are associated with Biddeford’s history over the past 200 years,” said John Bubier, Biddeford city manager. “They’re the ones that called people to work and told them to go home. It’s part of the city’s culture and history and, quite frankly, needs to be preserved.”

Maine Preservation’s 17th annual list, released Tuesday, highlights properties across the state that the nonprofit organization says face a variety of threats. It includes downtown Gardiner, the Sewall Mansion in Bath, the Abijah Buck House in Buckfield, the Anson Town Office, the Skowhegan Drive-In Theater, the Belfast Opera House and the two clock towers in Biddeford.

Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth said it is not uncommon to see deteriorating clock towers in Maine, where they were once used to call workers to and from shifts and keep mills running properly.

“They were really a standard fixture on most of the major 19th century textile mills in Maine, whether it was Biddeford-Saco or Lewiston-Auburn,” he said.

Talk of saving the Biddeford clock towers is not new, but the efforts could gain momentum because of the attention from the Maine Preservation list, according to city officials.

A local effort has already saved the Lincoln Mill clock from demolition, but more money is needed to restore the tower, which was built in the 1850s and removed from the mill around 2007. After the tower sat untouched for years on the side of Lincoln Street, it was moved in August to a temporary storage spot nearby. Supporters plan to launch a second fundraising campaign to pay for the restoration of the clock tower.

The City Hall clock tower was designed by noted Portland architect John Calvin Stevens when a new City Hall was built in 1894 to replace one destroyed by fire.

“Biddeford was at its height in the textile industry at the time. It was a very prosperous community,” Shettleworth said. “Oftentimes, these municipal buildings with their towers were a reflection and a symbol of the prosperity and success of the community. … That tower is such a focal point in the community. Your eye is immediately drawn to it.”

Bubier said discussions about the future of the City Hall clock tower date back to at least 2005. Voters in 2012 rejected a $3 million bond for building repairs, including to the clock tower. The City Council this year declined to send to voters another borrowing proposal to repair the structure. Some work was done in 2008 to 2009 to remove deteriorated falling debris and to prevent further leaking.

“The tower has gone past the point where just maintenance will bring it back,” Bubier said.

Bubier said city officials continue to explore ways to fund renovations of the City Hall clock tower, but recognizes it is difficult to garner support for a project that could cost close to $2 million.

“Money is hard to come by,” he said. “But we’ll keep trying.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian


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