Mrs. Smith sent me a postcard featuring the Big Spring Park Clock in Neosho.
I received a nice letter from Mrs. Harriette Smith, of Illinois.
Among some other interesting tidbits of information which I plan to share at some other time, Mrs. Smith sent me a postcard featuring the Big Spring Park Clock in Neosho. The photo was probably taken sometime in the 1980s or perhaps early 1990s by my guess. It was when the clock was still in operation, as there is a second hand, which is missing today. Also, the hours are marked with diamond-shaped plantings. The rest of the clock face has a beautiful floral design as well. Currently, the clock is not in working order. That is not the fault of anyone but the individuals who insist on damaging it for their personal amusement.
In her note, Mrs. Smith mentioned that her brother, Herbert Hennick, was involved in securing the clock and that he used to plant flowers there every spring. According to old newspaper articles, there were several other folks involved as well, namely Dale Palmer, Don Barnett, Floyd Dilbeck, among others. It it is noted in one article, however, that Hennick could be seen at the park every evening for years afterward, faithfully watering the flowers around the clock. Another newspaper source says he also designed the original clock face.
A couple of years ago, a former city parks director was seriously considering taking out the clock altogether, as it continued to be a target for vandalism. I strongly urged him not to, and provided him some historical information about the clock.
I thought I might share some of that same info today. I know most people are already familiar with the story of the Big Spring Park Clock, but others might not be. I spoke with someone over the phone just last week who was brand new to Neosho and didn't know much about local history, but seemed very eager to learn. New citizens move in all the time. I would hate to leave them in the dark about any of our history.
The Big Spring Park Clock has been a Neosho jewel (even if somewhat tarnished now) since June 15, 1967. On that date it was installed near the entrance to the park, and no less than 3,000 plants and flowers were set around it to create a 17-foot diameter face. Each year for decades afterward the clock face featured a different floral design. By the 1980s, the number of plants and flowers had been reduced by half, to 1,500. I imagine that figure has been even lower in more recent years.
The clock itself came from Neuchatel, Switzerland, ordered for $750 (plus $176 shipping to New Orleans and then Neosho) by the Neosho Flower Box Committee. The committee first became interested in buying a floral clock for Neosho after board chairman Dale Palmer showed pictures of flowers in France, Switzerland and Denmark, and some of the photos included floral clocks. The committee received the blessing and support of the city manager and city council to place the clock in Big Spring Park (on a side note, the city manager at the time was Charles Bell and the mayor was Wayne Insco).
The clock is electric and its mechanisms are housed in a concrete box at the center. Branham Brothers Construction made the box frame and Jerry Klepinger poured the concrete. The 3,000 plants that were set around it were initially planted by Neosho Floral Company employees, Flower Box Committee members and city employees. The grass seed around the clock was donated by Neosho Nurseries. A sidewalk was poured around it and a small chain fence later added to keep people from walking through the flowers to see the clock up close.
As of 1979, Neosho's floral clock was reportedly one of only 83 in the world, though I'm sure that number has changed since.
In the last couple of decades the clock has repeatedly fallen prey to misuse. Some kids, or young adults, like to jump on the hands, or try to move them manually, backwards and forwards, according to city officials. The clock has been repaired and damaged over and over. In 1995, the city finally removed the clock after it was deemed broken beyond repair and placed it in storage. However, in 1998 an ad hoc citizens committee managed to come up with funds to pay for replacement parts. The clock was refurbished and brought back to Big Spring Park. And then it was damaged again. I don't know if it was repaired once more, or twice or three times more, and damaged however many more times, but the fact is it doesn't work today. The hour and minute hands are there but don't move. The second hand is gone. I don't know if the broken clock mechanisms are still in place or not.
I don't think the city is all that willing to invest taxpayer funds to repair the clock just to see it damaged again. I don't know if any civic groups or individuals are that interested in it either. Personally, I think it should be repaired if possible, and not overly costly. Vandalism is a fact of life. I don't know if it means we shouldn't continue to pick up the pieces afterward. At the same time, I certainly don't blame anyone for not wanting to throw their money away.
There was once talk of installing a web camera in Big Spring Park, with the live video feed to be accessible on the city's website. At the time, it was going to be more of a promotional feature for the park, but I think it could also serve as a security tool. The police simply can't be everywhere, even if Neosho's police force wasn't still short-staffed. But with a live web cam trained squarely on the clock, how many pairs of watchful eyes might be added at any given time?
It's just a thought. I think the Big Spring Park Clock is worth it.
Wes Franklin serves on the Newton County Historical Society board of directors. He is also a staff writer for the Neosho Daily News. He can be reached at 658-8443.