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Clock tower bell to be reactivated after Labor Day

La Plata County officials say company may be able to silence chime at night
The clock tower at the La Plata County Courthouse on East Second Avenue in Durango. La Plata County temporarily suspended chiming of the courthouse bell after noise complaints. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A “seasonal experiment” to silence the hourly chime of the La Plata County clock tower will come to an end after Labor Day, county officials said Thursday.

But officials may embark on a new experiment: quieting the chimes during the middle of the night when nearby residents are trying to sleep.

At least one company, possibly the same bell manufacturer that built the historical timepiece, has reached out to say it may be able to retrofit the clock to quiet the chimes during certain hours, said county Commissioner Matt Salka.

“If we’re able to automate this, meaning where it can turn off at a certain time at night, this will be a win for all,” Salka said.

The striking clock used to announce the hour, on the hour, every hour: one strike for one o’clock, two strikes for two o’clock and so on until 12 o’clock when it would strike 12 times. The clock rang day and night.

But the ringing proved too much for some nearby residents who complained the noisy contraption kept them awake at night, especially during the summer when they sleep with their windows open.

The complaints prompted the county to try a little experiment: turn off the chimes during the warmest months – from about Memorial Day through Labor Day – when residents are most likely to sleep with their windows open.

The clock tower at the La Plata County Courthouse at 1060 East Second Ave. in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Robert Miller, with La Plata County General Services, restarts the clock on Sept. 2, 2021, by setting the pendulum in motion at 12:46 p.m. (Courtesy photo)

Since then, several residents have clamored in support of reactivating the chimes. They say the ringing clock tower is a part of Durango’s history – it was installed in 1891, deactivated in 1963 and rebuilt and reactivated in 1989. Champions of the chime say people who moved within earshot of the courthouse shouldn’t be trying to change a historical feature of the town, let alone one enjoyed by most residents.

Some have compared chime critics to recent arrivals who complain about the train whistle or those who build a house next to an airport and then complain about the air traffic noise.

A poll question conducted earlier this month on The Durango Herald’s website, which garnered about 2,500 responses, had about 91% of respondents in favor of keeping the chimes activated.

“I think that was the most lopsided poll I’ve ever seen,” said Ted Holteen, spokesman for the county.

Salka said he’s heard plenty of support this summer from residents who want the chimes reactivated.

“A large number of people (are) requesting and seeking to have that bell turned back on,” he said. “... They’re very loud and they miss their bell, and I completely understand why, because I’ve missed it, too.”

He said he’s heard from “a couple” of people who appreciate having the bell deactivated.

The clock is back in action Sept. 2, 2021, after being restarted to make it correct. Robert Miller, with La Plata County General Services, is in charge of keeping the clock ticking properly. (Courtesy photo)

Mike Kelly, who lives in the 1100 block of East Third Avenue, said he’s never been woken up by the bell and thinks it should be turned back on.

“We liked it,” he said. “It’s a shame it got shut off.”

He said in past years the clock has been off by 10 to 15 minutes, but that’s part of the charm.

“I wish they were back on,” he said.

Another resident, who lives in the 1000 block of East Third Avenue but declined to give his name, said the bell is a controversial issue among residents on the historic Boulevard. Some residents like it, and others wish it could be deactivated.

The man said he enjoys it, but it would be nice if it were silenced during the middle of the night.

“It’s kind of nice hearing the bell of history,” he said.


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