Column for 5/12/05
Margaret Collier

Listen up! Ann-Biggs Williams of Brewton and the Vice-President of the Escambia County (Alabama) Historical Society will be the speaker at the May meeting of The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society next Tuesday, May 17, 7:00 P. M., in The Leach House. Her topic will be "Recording Family History," so pack up your pencil and paper and come on out for this important meeting! While you are at it, mark your calendar for June 21 when we'll have a speaker to tell us about early times in Jay.

Last week, Seldon Pierce from The Pensacola News-Journal, came out for an interview on our Old #100 project. Watch for this promo that is scheduled for Sunday, May 15. Hopefully, this will give a boost to the homecoming aspirations of #100, as well as to the James Houston Jones Historical Park. (By the way, have you given your $100 for Old 100?)

The topic for consideration this week is Time and how keeping it got to the Tri-City area. In general, clockmakers came to America in the 17th century mainly from England and Holland. At that time, all clocks were built by hand so a small bag was sufficient to carry the clockmaker's tools. At first, they settled in more populated places such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia, followed by Charleston, S. C. and Baltimore. Factories came into being from 1800 to 1860.

Clocks tended to be large and definitely not portable. As time went by, more developments took place. People's needs and desires changed, so eventually watches were developed. Modern watches have a history going back as far as the 1500's with all manner of contraptions to compensate for the waning power of the mainspring. One such was a fusee, which was a cone-shaped pulley, cat-gut driven (chain in 1664) from the mainspring, tending to equalize the mainspring pull.

Now what you must understand is that until I attended the Flomaton Antique Auction this past weekend, I had never heard of a fusee. There, in the listing, was "a 19th century heavy brass fusee movement and dial, original painted still 12" diameter dial." So those early things still come around.

Space does not allow me to entertain you with the whole history of how we got from the huge bundlesome time pieces of yesterday to today's quartz, atomic, echo and other mysterious movements that allow us to avoid the White Rabbit syndrome. (You remember, of course, in the story of "Alice in Wonderland", the poor white rabbit went dashing off in all directions bemoaning, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!") What I do want to present for your consideration is just a little history of how some of the skills related to watchmaking and repair came to the Flomaton-Century area, with the hope that some of you readers will be able to fill in the blank areas.

The L & N Railroad expected the train people to have reliable timepieces and even required that they have those pieces certified by licensed repairmen. I understand that they even issued time cards that had to be signed by the repairman at regular intervals. This was before the days of modern communication systems when it was essential that switches be thrown at particular times, etc. Apparently, in the 40's and 50's, Carter Kennedy was the licensed L & N person who was authorized to do this work. His shop was in his home on Railroad Street, one block east of Palafox, in Flomaton.

Next we know that Jimmy White did repairs on the Florida side of the line during the 50's, 60's and 70's. At first, he had a shop where Spears and Radio Shack are now. Later he moved out to Highway 4 with space in his home for repair work.

Now we come to 1974 when Len's Jewelry and watch repair shop opened. From an old newspaper article we read: "On Palafox Street a new jewelry store is scheduled to open about Feb. 15, according to Leonard Conrad, owner. It will be located in the old Dungan Barbershop Building and will be named Len's Jewelry. Conrad said the business will include watch and jewelry repairs. Renovations on the building are now underway."
Through the years Len's business has changed. He, and almost all watch repair people, rarely works on the inner workings of watches since one can now buy new ones very cheaply. They will replace hands, faces, crystals and stems, but the main works are easier replaced than reworked.

Len learned watch repair in the service where he spent 20 years of life in various parts of the world. He collected gemstones and was able to use them in his work. "But," I asked, "how did a fellow from his native Pennsylvania end up in a little town in south Alabama?" 1. He is very sensitive to cold, so wanted no part of northern winters. 2. His late wife's parents lived in Flomaton. This enabled her to be close to her family and to help him avoid those cold winters elsewhere.

Len has thoughts of retirement these days in order to fully develop a campground that he and his present wife have. What he won't be doing is teaching his son watch repair. "It's too hard on the eyes."

Watchmaking is a skill that started in about 1500 in Nuremberg when Peter Henlein invented the coiled mainspring that made possible a portable timepiece. Just think, folks, that skill was honed and passed along through many people and places and eventually found its way to where we live, and is still undergoing changes. Maybe watch repairing is a dying art. If so, what will tomorrow bring?

If you can add to this story, let us hear from you. If the subject is of special interest, use the library or Internet to give you all of the info. However, if you want a terrific read on many subjects, just pick up a copy of the new ASHS book, "Scrapbook, Vol. 4" for $15.00. You may find these at the Escambia County Bank, the Antique Auction House, and the Village Flower Shop in Flomaton. In Century, Southern Treasures, Purr-fect Creations and The Leach House have copies.

If you have trouble getting out of your house, just give us a call and we'll deliver.

Photo taken of grammar school playground from Century Pharmacy about 1940. The rear entrance of Turberville Hospital is in background.

Did you sit here with your girlfriends? Tell us who these girls are.

This page last modified on Monday, May 09, 2005