Gift will restore King Chapel tower and clock

King Chapel’s iconic clock tower, and the rare 1882 Seth Thomas clock it houses, will continue ringing the hours from the highest point in Linn County because of a lead gift from Cornell College Trustee Linda Webb Koehn ’66 and her husband, honorary alumnus Thomas K. Koehn.

Linda Webb Koehn '66 at King Chapel
Linda Webb Koehn ’66 at King Chapel.

“One of my favorite views is of the chapel approaching from Iowa City to the south. That piercing tower in the sky is iconic. We want to protect that forever for Cornell,” Linda said. “In the midst of the rural landscape it declares a commitment to culture, to education, and of course in 1882, to the Methodist Church.”

Linda, a Trustee since 2011, chaired the Board’s Building & Grounds Committee, helping direct investments in Cornell’s National Register campus.

“Linda has given a lot of thought to our historic campus and how we can enhance it. It’s a real passion for her,” said Cornell President Jonathan Brand. “I am grateful that she and Tom are empowering us to restore this campus treasure.”

The Koehns reside in Des Moines, Iowa. Linda sits on the board of The Waldinger Corporation where Tom is CEO. Following a 20-year teaching career, Linda

Linda Webb Koehn '66 and honorary alumnus Tom Koehn
Linda Webb Koehn ’66 and honorary alumnus Tom Koehn.

became a community leader and philanthropist and was recognized in 2005 as a Woman of Influence by the Des Moines Business Record. The Koehns have previously supported the first-year residence halls renovation (recognized with the Koehn Courtyard behind Pauley-Rorem Hall), Van Etten-Lacey House renovation, Fine Arts Campaign, and the Annual Fund.

Their gift, part of the Greater > Than campaign, joins grants from the Stockman Family Foundation Trust of New York, the State Historical Society of Iowa, the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission, and the Nina E. and Victor D. Merveaux Endowed Fund for Historic Preservation to provide full funding for a complete refurbishment of the clockworks, clock faces, and the clock tower structure that houses it. 

A national treasure

Seth Thomas clockworks
The King Chapel Seth Thomas clockworks.

The 1882 Seth Thomas clock housed within King Chapel’s clock tower is a national treasure. It is believed to be the only working Model 17 quarter-striker tower clock in existence and has run almost continuously since it was installed.

When it was purchased for $1,050, the clock had every possible upgrade, including a pricey temperature-compensated mechanism that ensured accurate timekeeping in Iowa’s extreme or rapidly-changing temperatures. Although it is wound weekly and oiled monthly, time has been hard on the clock mechanism and its four clock faces.

After conducting a national search, Cornell located only one individual with the expertise to restore King Chapel’s tower clock. Chuck Roeser of Lockport, New York, has examined the clock on three previous occasions and describes the original hand-painted scrollwork as “beyond incredible—the best I’ve ever seen on a Seth Thomas tower clock.”

King Chapel clock tower
King Chapel clock tower.

Roeser will remove the clock in June and ship it to his shop in New York, where he and his staff will refabricate the clock dials, hands, and numerals; clean, restore, or refabricate the gearing, frame, and movement parts; rebush the worn universals; and polish and lacquer the gears and arbors. Roeser will reinstall the clock during summer 2019.

Meanwhile, on-site repair of the clock tower housing will take place between May and November 2018.

According to Roeser, the professional cleaning and refabrication of worn and damaged mechanical components should allow the clock to continue keeping time for another 100 years.