For whom the bell tolls


Local News

December 31, 2019 - 9:58 AM

Some might call it historic charm.

Others complain about sleep-deprivation as the old courthouse clock boldly chimes every hour, on the hour ? with the number of chimes corresponding to the hour. 

Allen County commissioners are debating what to do about the clock?s nighttime peals after complaints of it interfering with the sleep of downtown residents and renters. What seemed like a simple proposal ? just mute the clock at night ? instead motivated former clock caretaker Chuck Richey to weigh in on the matter.

?That bell has rung for the last hundred years,? he said. ?Eighty years ago, all of the apartments were full of people. It?s a sad thing when we change tradition for just a few people.?

The issue highlights the realities of downtown living, as community developers look to revitalize downtown business districts and increase housing opportunities.

The Lofts, owned by Terry Sparks and his son, Ryan, are short- and long-term rental units in the upper levels of buildings along the square. The Sparkses, along with other local landlords, also offer residential living in downtown apartments.

A renter recently complained about clock?s routine chiming, prompting the Sparkses to inquire among  others, who replied the ringing frequently woke them up in the wee hours of the morning.

?I can?t imagine anybody would want that thing dinging all night in their backyard,? Terry Sparks said. ?I can?t say I?ve had that many complaints, but as a business owner I don?t want to have any complaints.?

Others, including Register reporter Erick Mitchell, said they don?t notice the sound.

The city does have an ordinance  against ?loud and excessive noise.? It allows an exemption for the playing of bells or chimes by electronic means by any religious organization, but does not specify if the county, which owns the property, is also exempt. 


A worker cuts trees to make way for the new Allen County Courthouse in 1957. The old courthouse?s clock remains a part of Iola?s downtown square. EXCERPTED FROM CHRONICLES OF ALLEN COUNTY:1945-2000.


THE CLOCK once sat 124-feet high in the tower of the old Allen County Courthouse, built in 1905. When the structure was replaced in 1959, the clock face and mechanism were salvaged by the county commission, the Allen County Historical Society and private citizens. The Iola Lions and Rotary clubs cared for the clock at various points, and at one point the system was rebuilt. The clock is now the county?s responsibility, with a group of volunteers dedicated to its upkeep. 

Richey served as one of those volunteers from about 2000 until 2016, when he turned the responsibility over to Ron Holman and Terry Call. Neither were available for comment for this article.

Richey oversaw the clock through a digital upgrade about 15 years ago.

Until that time, it would not have been practical to turn the clock off at night and on again in the morning. Doing so required someone to pull a lever inside the structure to turn off the bell?s timer. 

The clock relies on electricity, so power outages could throw off the accuracy of the time. A volunteer would need to reset the clock with the correct time.

?People complained all the time when it wasn?t working,? Richey said. 

When the chiming mechanism broke about 15 years ago, Richey did his best to track down replacement parts. It was nearly impossible to find the right parts to replace such an old, large clock.

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