Hidden Treasures of Campus: Vintage Clocks

by   |   [email protected]   |  
Vintage clock in FMA mezzanine

Many people may know Dr. Ken Renfrow as a beloved music teacher, choir accompanist or friend. But his musical talents reach beyond the scope of the classroom to the lesser-known treasures of campus: antique clocks.

Renfrow’s Timely History

Said Renfrow: “I grew up in the clock business. … My whole life was clocks, clocks, clocks.”

For as long as he can remember, Renfrow has worked with clocks as part of the family business. In fact, when he left for college in 1979, there were 278 antique clocks in his house. “I love the history behind the clocks,” he said. His passion to preserve the history and craftsmanship of these masterpieces has spanned his lifetime.

Renfrow returned to BJU as music faculty in 2004. “About that time, some of the clocks needed work,” he said. Because of his experience, Renfrow was asked to help Tom Butts care for them. “He would go around and wind the clocks every week. If anything needed to be done to the clocks, he would call me, and then I would take care of it,” Renfrow said.

Renfrow now maintains the four vintage clocks currently on campus: one in the third-floor lobby of the Gustafson Fine Arts Center, one at the blue brick entrance to the GFAC, the old master clock in his office, and the antique clock in the mezzanine of FMA.

BJU’s Vintage Clocks

The Master Clock

“The one in my office, to me, is the most interesting one steeped in Bob Jones history,” Renfrow said. The master clock that controlled the bells and all other clocks on campus for more than 50 years was built by IBM in 1937. “The master clock would send out a pulse, every minute, and it would advance every clock on campus by one minute,” Renfrow said. “It’s extremely accurate.”

The University bought four IBM clocks as military surplus after World War II, two for parts and two for use. Said Renfrow: “They would always be running at the right time. So if one went down, they could switch over to the other one.”

Today, campus clocks are operated by computer, but Renfrow enjoys having this piece of BJU history keeping time in his studio.

The Herschede Clock

Inside the blue-bricked entrance to the music wing of the Gustafson Fine Arts Center sits the most recent of BJU’s timely acquisitions. After the donors gave it to the University, the university administration asked Renfrow to restore the mechanism on the clock.

Built in the 1970s, the clock was first installed in the Mack Library building before being relocated to its present location in 2019 when renovations began on the Mack Building.

The Handcrafted Clock

The clock on the third-floor lobby of Fine Arts is more modern compared to the other clocks. Renfrow recalls that it “was built by a board member and donated to the school” about 50–60 years ago. It stood next to the information desk in the old administration building until 2016 when it was moved to its current location.

This clock has a moving moon dial on its face. “It’s a triple chime clock, actually. It plays three different tunes on eight chime rods, and counts the hour on four additional rods,” Renfrow said.

The Antique Clock

The largest and most valuable clock on the campus of BJU is located in the mezzanine of Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium. Renfrow said that he’s never seen another clock like this one: “it’s a fantastic example of that particular maker’s work.”

The movement was crafted by Elliott of London and cased in New England — as far as Renfrow can tell — by Charles Jacques, a well-known clockmaker. Said Renfrow: “He was known for importing movements from England, having the cases built in New England, putting the clocks together and selling them through department stores.”

Renfrow dates this nine-tube chime clock around 1905, making this BJU’s oldest clock and a true antique.

“Many years ago, my dad had a grandfather clock in his shop that had a poem inscribed on the dial,” Renfrow said. The poem compares the service of a clock to our service to God. The last line said, “Master, be wise and learn from me, to serve thy God as I serve thee.”

“That’s what I enjoy about the clocks,” Renfrow said. “I think they hold a lot of value historically as well as being part of the Bob Jones saga, for some of them lots of years.”

Behold me, Master, here I stand, to give the hour at thy command.

What is thy will is my delight, to serve thee well both day and night.

Master, be wise and learn from me, to serve thy God as I serve thee.

— Inscription from the dial of an antique grandfather tall case clock, circa 1780