Beneath the twisting bittersweet vines and piles of pigeon droppings that slowly overtook the historic Lincoln Mill clock tower as it languished on the ground in Biddeford, George Collard saw nothing but potential.

When the clock tower that once called thousands of workers to the Biddeford textile mills faced almost certain demolition last fall, the Portland historian stepped in with an ambitious plan to move and restore the structure. Now, with a new deadline from the city to move the clock tower, Collord and a group of local high school students have launched a campaign to raise the thousands of dollars needed to relocate the clock tower from a spot Biddeford officials say poses a safety hazard and violates city rules.

“It’s an incredible piece of history,” Collard said. “These clock towers were the centerpiece of every major mill town.”

For the past seven years, the clock tower has rested mostly untouched on the ground next to the Lincoln Mill, which it sat atop for 111 years before it was removed for safety reasons. As the condition of the tower deteriorated, many in Biddeford called it an eyesore and city officials said its location violated the building code and caused a safety hazard.

The City Council last week agreed to give Collord and his supporters until Sept. 2 to move the clock tower from its place between the former mill building and Lincoln Street. If it is not moved by the deadline, the city may pursue having it dismantled and removed.

“It’s the Union Station of Biddeford,” Collord said, referring to the Portland train station that was demolished in 1961, sparking the city’s historic preservation movement. “It really is more the symbol of this place than any structure I know of.”

The clock tower was days away from demolition last year, after the city got a court order that fined the Lincoln Mill owners $100 a day if it was not removed. Dumpsters were on-site to collect the sawed-up remnants of the clock tower when Collord, a local expert on industrial history, stepped in to save it. He bought the clock tower from the owners of the Lincoln Mill for $1, then posted a $5,000 bond to ensure its removal by May.

With that deadline missed, Collord went before the City Council on May 20 to ask for more time to raise money to move the clock tower so it can eventually be restored. His efforts have been buoyed by the enthusiasm of a small group of Biddeford High School students who produced a seven-minute video about the history of the clock tower, which was built around 1853 and moved to the top of the Lincoln Mill from a nearby building sometime in the 1880s or 1890s. Collord estimates it will cost about $17,500 to temporarily move the clock tower to the nearby Pepperell Mills Campus or, if one is found, a permanent location in Biddeford. Collord said he would like to see the clock tower completely restored – including replacements for the bell and weather vane that were sold after it was taken off the mill – then displayed in a public park or another downtown location that would allow people to see it up close.

“When you walk under it now, it’s like going in the most beautiful gazebo you’ve seen in your life,” Collord said. The names of people who wound the clock every eight days are carved inside.

Supporters have a pledge of $10,000 toward the cause, and are using a crowd-funding website to raise the rest of the money to pay for a crane, truck and other moving expenses. About $10,000 of work needs to be done to stabilize the tower for the move, but Collord said he can do much of that himself. Money to restore the clock tower will be raised separately if the move is successful.

Since last fall, Collord has reinstalled the clock tower’s windows and done other work to secure it until it is moved.

Victoria Eon, a Biddeford resident active with preserving the city’s mill history, was among a handful of teens and young adults who asked city councilors for more time to save the clock tower. Preserving the structure would allow future generations to enjoy the landmark and feel connected to the city’s industrial past, she said.

“For so long it’s been a negative symbol just rotting on the side of the road,” she said. “It is a remembrance of the great legacy Biddeford had.”

Bailey Parenteau, a Biddeford High School student, urged the City Council to allow supporters more time to preserve “a symbol of Biddeford.” He said it would be shortsighted to get rid of a piece of history that could become an attraction once restored.

Despite optimism from supporters that the money will be raised in time to move the clock tower, city councilors indicated they will be firm with the deadline and will consider demolishing the structure if it is not moved.

Councilor Brad Cote said he is glad there’s energy around trying to save the clock tower and supported extending the deadline to September, but said the council can’t continue to do that.

“We can’t just keep doing extensions forever,” he said.

Collord said he is confident he will be able to get the clock tower moved and eventually restored to include a bell and working clock.

“It’s part of the fabric and history of not just Biddeford, but all of New England,” he said.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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