BIDDEFORD — Fourteen years ago, Dan LeBlond climbed into the clock tower on top of the Lincoln Mill to make repairs after a piece of the historic structure fell to the street below. The clock and bell, which once called thousands of workers to the city’s bustling textile mills, stood silent and still.

A year later, the clock tower was unceremoniously removed from the mill, already stripped of its weather vane and bell. For the next seven years, it languished on the ground, slowly being overtaken by twisting bittersweet vines and piles of pigeon droppings, until a group of volunteers saved it from demolition with plans to someday restore it.

Construction workers walk past the historic 140-year-old clock tower, which will be relocated to a nearby lot in early January. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer  Buy this Photo

On Friday, LeBlond watched with obvious excitement as a crane hoisted the 26,000-pound structure and moved it to a new spot where it can be restored, the latest step in a three-part journey to save the iconic symbol of the city’s industrial past.

“It belongs to the people,” said LeBlond, a Biddeford native who clearly remembers removing 350 pounds of pigeon droppings from the clock tower back in 2006.

The Friends of the Historic Lincoln Mill Clock Tower arranged the clock tower’s move as part of a plan to raise money to restore the structure and install it as a centerpiece of the city’s new RiverWalk, which is being built along the Saco River in the mill district.

“It will be in a place of honor,” said Louise Merriman, co-chair of the friends group.

But first the group needs to raise about $275,000, which it hopes to accomplish with fundraisers at local businesses and a buy-a-brick program. Bricks sold as part of the effort will be used to make a path to the clock tower when it is installed in a park.

“It’s so symbolic of the industrial generation,” said Mayor Alan Casavant. “It’s nice it can be preserved as part of the new, modern Biddeford.”

The unique octagonal clock tower was built around 1853 and moved to the top of the Lincoln Mill from a nearby building sometime in the 1880s or 1890s. The tower clock, made by the E. Howard Co. of Boston between 1868 and 1872, was wound each week when the clock sat atop the mill. Many of the people who wound the clock carved their names in the walls of the clock room.

“All the Biddeford mill workers timed their lives by this clock,” Merriman said.

The clock tower was days away from demolition in 2013 after the city got a court order to have it removed. Dumpsters were already on site when George Collard, a local historian, stepped in and bought it from the mill owners for $1, then posted a bond to ensure it would be removed by a new deadline set by the City Council.

In 2014, Maine Preservation, a historic preservation group, named the clock tower one of the most endangered historic structures in Maine.

The effort to move and save the clock tower got a boost from a group of Biddeford High School students who produced a seven-minute video about the history of the clock tower. An online campaign and private donations raised more than $25,000 to move the clock tower to the edge of a parking lot on the other side of the Lincoln Mill from where it had been sitting on the ground.

But the effort to raise restoration funds fizzled out until last year, when a new group of volunteers formed the Friends of the Historic Lincoln Mill Clock Tower. Now Merriman hopes the city will unite behind the effort to save the clock tower, much as it did last year to raise money for repairs at Waterhouse Field.

“We’re finishing the work that started when it was cut down in 2007,” she said.

Merriman said the clock tower’s move from the wooded edge of the Pepperell Mill Campus to a flat parking lot next to the Lincoln Mill will allow volunteers to continue their restoration work on the structure, which has sat uncovered for 13 years. Last year, they spent hours scraping paint from the outside walls in preparation for the restoration, which will include the installation of a replica bell and weather vane.

Like LeBlond, Merriman could barely contain her excitement when trucks from the Cote Corp. arrived in Biddeford with a crane Friday morning.  The Auburn company moved the clock tower at cost, saving the friends group more than $10,000.

After Cote Corporation employees spent an hour rigging the clock tower, it took just three minutes to move it several hundred feet. Merriman cheered and hugged fellow volunteers as the tower was lowered back to the ground.

“It takes a community to save this irreplaceable piece of history,” she said.

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