Still Ticking

140 years ago, a flagship factory was built along Hamilton Street. Its creator was one of the city’s largest manufacturing operations, the New Haven Clock Company, fated to become one of the largest businesses of its kind anywhere on the planet.

100 years ago, football legend Walter Camp was busy bringing about that fate, prowling the vast U-shaped building as company president.

By 1960, the New Haven Clock Company had vacated the structure and closed its doors for the last time, unable to adapt to a swiftly changing economy.

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The company died, but the building lives on despite long odds. Over the years it lost all of its sister buildings to redevelopment. In 1999 it became a demolition target itself, as thriving northern neighbor Palmieri Foods wanted some extra space. In 2001 it was at the center of a radiation scare, which subsequent testing revealed to be much-overblown.

Along the way the building found modest new tenants, some still present. There’s an auto garage accessible from Wallace Street, positioning itself discreetly but for vertical fabric signs shouting “Auto Detailing” and “Carwash” from behind a chain-link gate. More easily spotted is a strip joint called Primo Gentlemen’s Club, whose front-door awning, on St. John Street just off Hamilton, reads “Girls Girls Girls” in pink.

There are other signs of life. A cluster of what appears to be communications equipment, fed by tubular black cables like strings of licorice, perches atop the structure’s southern tower. Nearby, a handful of upper-story windows is paned with well-maintained glass, not painted plywood boards like the rest. And during my visit, I heard the sounds of light construction work happening inside.

What these signs mean for the future of the New Haven Clock Company building isn’t clear, except that, for now, it does have a future. Given how historic it is, and how much gravity you feel when you stand in its presence, and the serious hurdles it’s had to leap just to stick around, that’s a victory in and of itself.

The New Haven Clock Company Building
133 Hamilton St, New Haven (map)

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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