The Hancher Clock

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By Kate Quinn

Since 1890, the tall stately Hancher Clock has been a fixture in Wheeling. Street clocks became popular in the 1800’s both to advertise wares and as a symbol of status. Since most clocks were made in the East and were expensive to transport, these tall timekeepers proclaimed the affluence of their owners in the Western states. For Wheeling, the Hancher Clock has become a symbol of yesterday and a familiar fixture that has become a part of the revitalization of the city.

Most early clocks were Edwardian or Victorian in design with ornate pedestals and some had four faces. Art deco clocks began to appear in the 1920’s, but were electrical rather than mechanical. From the 1920’s to the 1960’s street clocks began to disappear. They were struck by cars or removed to widen streets. In small towns and major cities, preservationists have revived the interest in street clocks. Early advertising for Hancher’s Jewelry store called the clock a “guide post of integrity to an old and reliable store…” Today, it welcomes visitors to the Friendly City.

Charles Hancher was born April 17, 1864 at Beelers Station in Marshall County, West Virginia. His father Archibald Hancher was a veterinary surgeon and his mother raised seven children. Charles was employed at fourteen in a general store in Wellsburg then came to Wheeling in 1880 where he apprenticed in the jewelry store of I.G. Dillon at 1223 Market Street. By 1885 he had become Dillon’s partner and in 1890 opened a new jewelry store at 1231 Market Street in partnership with A.A. Wheat.

A historian said of him in 1912: “During the long intervening years he has continued to be actively engaged in this line of enterprise, in which definite success has been the reward of his honorable business policies and careful attention to the requirements of patrons. His store is thoroughly metropolitan in its facilities and equipment, and in the various departments a comprehensive stock is carried at all times, affording a wide range for selection. A man of sterling character, broad sympathies and high civic ideals, Mr. Hancher has not denied his co-operation in the furtherance of measures and enterprises projected for the general good of the community, and has been specially active and liberal in the support of charitable and benevolent objects.”

By 1895 the business at 1223 Market Street became Dillon, Wheat and Hancher. By 1901, Charles Hancher was the sole proprietor of the jewelry store, which also carried leather goods, glassware, floor and table lamps, and “white ivory goods, including everything for the toilet and desk upon which we engrave designs open, or filled with colored enamel.” In the basement of the establishment, Hancher provided lunch for the 22 employees of the business which was served in the Grill room, an elaborately out-fitted dining room.

Hancher’s father kept a large number of horses and Hancher became an accomplished rider at an early age. He rode a thoroughbred in the inaugural race at the opening of the State Fair grounds on Wheeling Island in 1880 and later served as a judge at the larger American horse shows. Hancher also served on the board for the West Virginia State Fair Association for many years. He was a member of the WV Turf Club and a founding member of the BPO Elks Club in Wheeling. Hancher traveled the world in search of the best diamonds.

An article in the Intelligencer from June 15, 1906 was headlined “Mr. Hancher Returns From European Trip”. He recounted his rough voyage to Liverpool aboard the steamer Baltic, but said he had a pleasant voyage home despite having to return to England when a propellor broke on the ship Kaiser Wilhelm. He had traveled alone and visited Berlin, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, Frankford-on-the Main and other large cities “winding up in the most cosmopolitan of all gay Paris”. He “expressed the usual opinion of Americans who have been abroad, that there is no country like America, after all.”

He was a member of the Fort Henry Club and Treasurer of the WV State Fair. A Wheeling News register article dated 1924 said, “It was a familiar sight to see Charles Hancher presiding as timer in the judges stand”.

He built a large and gracious home on Belle Fern Farm in Cecil Place in the Springdale area of Wheeling where he bred hackney ponies and horses and showed them at Madison Square Garden in New York City and other large cities. When his first wife Margaret R. Mills died, he married Katherine White who was born in Wheeling to Colonel Robert and Eleanor White. Her father Col. White was from Romney, West Virginia and was elected State Attorney General in 1876. Since Wheeling was then the capital the family moved to this city.

Katherine loved to entertain on the spacious porches of the house and she too took part in the State Fair. An article dated 1923 in the Wheeling News Register stated, “ Mrs. Charles Hancher gowned entirely in white held the reins in very pretty fashion over a pair of sorrel cobs attached to a depot-wagon.”

“The Show Circle” was a highlight of the races at the State Fairs with society ladies in their finest gowns riding in carriages in the inner circle and parading past the grandstands to the orchestra from the Opera House. “Beautiful women and blooded horses were the big attraction of the show prior to the reign of the black–hooded gas monsters”, according to the News Register.

His second wife Katherine White Farrell bore him one son, Harold, who died in childhood and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Hancher himself died on November 24, 1945 at the age of 81 of pneumonia. He was a lifelong member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Katherine died five years later when her car hit a tree on Walnut Avenue in Woodsdale. Both are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, in Wheeling.

Hancher and Company continued in business until 1946 when it was bought by Charles Baum who was President of the company until it was sold to Rogers Jewelers in 1960.

The pedestal clock which became known as the Hancher Clock was manufactured in Boston at the E. Howard Watch and Clock Co. Edward Howard, its founder (1813-1904) began the company as Howard & Davis in 1842 . The company also made sewing machines, fire engines, and precision balances. By 1881 it had become a joint stock corporation. Mr. Howard sold out his shares in the company in 1882 and retired.

In 1975 with Dana Blackwell, as Vice President, the company revived clock production and according to their website “..the movements in these later clocks maintained the high standards that the Howard firm had become famous for and cases were made to very strict specifications.”

Scandal hit the company in 1977 when a man named Beckham purchased the company, fired most of the firm’s management and proceeded to drain it financially. In 1980 he hired “thugs” to blow up the building, was caught and convicted but served no time.

The company was saved from Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the clock making part of the business was sold to private investors.


Wheeling’s stately timepiece was first slightly damaged by a car in 1957 and then again on November 25,1968 when a bakery truck backed into it severing the steel completely. According to an article in the Wheeling Intelligencer on June 6,1969 the clock was repaired by Kalkreuth Brothers Inc. “We just had to put it together piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle,” John Kalreuth explained. “When that cast iron hit the pavement, it just shattered.” Roger’s Jewelry had the bonnet over the top of the clock changed and Scott lumber replace it with one containing the Hancher lion and the name Rogers Jewelry Store. Repairs cost the store $3500.

Marvin Meister, manager of the store, contacted the City to see if a crosswalk could be placed where the clock stood to avoid cars hitting it while trying to park. He was unsuccessful.

Six weeks later (July 22, 1969) it was again attacked, this time by a Railway Express truck. The pedestal was bent but not severed this time and Kalreuth and Co. used a crane to lift off the top part of the clock. The cable, which runs through the top part of the clock, kept it from falling to the pavement.
The newspaper article reported the historic clock was believed to be one of only six in the country.

Meister again contacted the City Manager Charles Steele asking that the parking space next to the clock be eliminated. The clock was elevated three feet and put on a concrete pillar.

In 1981 Roger’s Jewelry Store moved to the Ohio Valley Mall and the stately timepiece was purchased by Ray Young. The clock was removed from its site at 1223 Market Street.

A mystery developed when Anthony J. Zambito, Sr, purchased the property and had no idea where the clock had gone. The newspaper reported, “I thought I would own it (the clock)”, he said. Mr. Zambito was assured by Roger’s parent corporation that the clock would be found and restored to its original site.

Ray Young sold the clock to Security National Bank and Trust Company in 1985 and it was installed in front of their building at 1114 Market Street on November 10, 1986. The concrete base was set further back from the street to avoid collisions.

In August of 1997. the bank (now known as Chase) donated it to the city of Wheeling and Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation(WHNAC) undertook the restoration of the clock. It was installed at its new location at 14th and Market Street in November of 1998. The coordination of the extensive renovations was done by Hydie Friend of WNHAC. Glenn White completely rebuilt the movement of the clock and has maintained it for the last 23 years.

Today, the clock stands as a reminder of simpler times and days gone by in a city steeped in history and looking forward to tomorrow.