The tug of war between Gorham and the First Parish Church

for custody of the historic town clock remains unresolved, and an attempt for negotiations has apparently wound down.

“We made a request to meet with the town council and they have declined to do that,” the Rev. David Butler, senior pastor of the First Parish Church, said Monday.

The clock had been in the First Parish Church steeple since 1868, but the town removed the clock and authorized $75,000 for repairs last fall. It is being restored to working order and will be ready to return to Gorham this spring. But the question is: Where?

Its fate remained undecided after the town council deadlocked with a 3-3 vote earlier this month to install it in the new municipal center on South Street. The clock had been in the church steeple for 138 years and the church wants it back. But fears over violating the separation of church and state have risen.

Town councilors Phil Dugas, Jane Willett and Shonn Moulton opposed locating the clock in the municipal center while Burleigh Loveitt, Mike Phinney and Norm Justice were in favor.

In response to the church’s request for a meeting, the town sent a letter on Feb. 13 to Butler and Mark Faunce, the church moderator. In the letter, Town Manager David Cole said Justice, the council chairman, had suggested that any proposal should be presented to the whole council for public discussion, rather than to a subcommittee.

“Any delegation of the town council or any consideration by a subcommittee of the town council would require approval of the full council,” Cole wrote.

Butler said no meeting has been set and no alternative proposal has been agreed upon for the next town council meeting on Tuesday, March 6. But Butler was optimistic.

“Hopefully, something will develop by the first of next week,” said Butler, who declined to give details.

Meanwhile, a descendent of Toppan Robie, the leading citizen who gave the clock to the town, was firm on where he thought the clock should go.

“My thoughts are that the thing should go back where it came from,” said Walton Brann, a great-great-great grandson of Toppan Robie. A retired engineer and Gorham resident, Brann said the loft in the steeple could be heated to protect the clock in harsh weather.

Brann, a member of the church and its choir, said his ancestor donated the clock to be placed in that steeple, where its four faces would be conspicuous and where it would ring the bell. He said townspeople who might not be able to see a clock face would hear the bell toll.

“I can vaguely remember when it rang the bell on the hour,” Brann said.

He said Toppan Robie agreed to buy the clock and persuaded the town to pay to alter the steeple to accommodate the clock and its faces. Brann said the town once used the church for meetings, and he recalled when high school graduations were held there.

He said Toppan Robie and his son, Fred Robie, who became a Maine governor, were influential in town affairs for a century. “The two dominated the town for over 100 years,” Brann said.

Brann, whose mother was a Robie, lived on Robie Street as a youth. His home at 16 Toppan Drive was a wedding present to his great-grandfather, William Pitt Fessenden Robie, in 1890.

Brann’s grandchildren represent the eighth generation of the Robie family in Gorham.

Cutline (robie relative 1)


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