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Clockmakers of Emmitsburg

Mary B. Nakhleh

I have long been fascinated by clocks, and as a resident of Emmitsburg, my curiosity was immediately aroused by discovering an Emmitsburgian, John Hoover, listed in both Drepperd's American Clocks and Clockmahers and Palmer's The Hook of American Clocks. Palmer cited him as c. 1850; Drepperd, 1854. Nothing further was known about the man or his work, and obviously at least one date was incorrect. Some extensive research has revealed more facts concerning John Hoover and has uncovered an entire family of clockmakers, the Eyster family, hitherto unknown to any but local collectors and townspeople. The Eysters, father and two sons, were excellent clockmakers, and several examples of their work are known locally. The purpose of this article is to put all of the information thus far discovered into the record, and of course any further information on these clockmakers or examples of their work would be greatly appreciated.

Andrew Eyster, 1800-1872

Apparently the Eyster family carne to Emmitsburg, probably from Pennsylvania and/or Germany, in the mid-eighteenth century, as the first member of the family mentioned in the Lutheran Church records is Jacob Oyster (or Eyster), 1761-1825. It is unknown whether any of Andrew Eysters forebearers were clockmakers. There is a legend that a silversmith and clockmaker named only as "Bachman came to Emmitsburg from near the present town of Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania at an unknown time and that Andrew Eyster was one of his apprentices. The author has been unable to find any other source to confirm or deny this report; hopefully, further research will elucidate this very interesting point. Also it must be noted that John Hoover, on his farm near Emmitsburg, was a mature clockmaker at the time young Andrew Eyster was of age to be apprenticed. It is possible that Eyster learned his craft from Hoover. In any event, Bachman is supposed to have returned to Franklin County in 1833, and Andrew Eyster took over both the silversmith and the clock making businesses. His descendants still possess spoons made by him, and two tall case clocks by him are known. The Eyster family believes that he made his own cases as well as the movement. A Eugene Zimmerman was a cabinet maker in Emmitsburg at that time, and it is possible that he may have cased some of the movements. One tall case, or grandfather clock by him is an eight-day brass movement with time and strike and a calendar movement. The calendar hand is a replacement, and the black walnut case is 8-1/2' tall.

George Edgar Taylor Eyster , 1847-1912

George Eyster was one of Andrew Eyster s eight children, and it appears that he fought in the Civil War (Cole's Cavalry). He is known to have owned a jewelry store in Emmitsburg, and he was apparently in business with his younger brother, Hall Webster Eyster, since there is a wall clock labelled "C.T. Eyster & Bro., Emmittsburg" (sic). This clock is a double dial, with the calendar dial indicating date, month and day. As an interesting sidelight, the Emmitsburg Chronicle of Saturday, May 5, 1883 notes that "George T. Eyster has hung out, at his store, a large gilt watch, that indicates the time at 8:20 or 5:40 o clock as you please to read it. It goes by swinging." This sign is still in the possession of the Eyster family.

Hall Webster Eyster 1851-1927

Hall was the son to whom Andrew Eyster left "all My Watch Making tools and Materials." His father s confidence in Hall Eyster s ability certainly seems to have been justified, for on May 8, 1900 U.S. Patent #649,287 was issued to Hall Eyster for the development of an improved clock movement frame. The frame was designed so that the mainspring arbors could be removed without tilting or damaging the movement. The lower portions of the clock frame, both front and back plates, were constructed in three parts which were screwed together in such a way that the entire lower frame could be dismantled sectionally. This was an obvious advantage in cleaning or replacing the mainsprings. Hall Eyster made and/or sold at least one other wall clock and a mantel clock that are known to the author; there are most probably a good many more that are still waiting to be discovered.

John Hoover, 1771-1832

John Hoover was apparently the first clockmaker in Emmitsburg, and the known facts are very sparse. In his will John Hoover bequeathed "my son Erasmus .... my blacksmith's tools ... to my son Jesse, my carpenters tools . . .to my son Francis, my clock and watch tools." Given this diversity of equipment, it is entirely possible that John Hoover not only made his movements, weights, etc. but cased them as well. The tall clock in the C. Burr Artz Library is one of several known Hoover clocks, and the dial is signed John Hoover/Emmitsburg/20, indicating that this was his twentieth clock. The case is very well constructed, and it is interesting to note that both this clock and the Eyster tall clock show a similar Pennsylvania Dutch influence in the design on the base. Emmitsburg is located almost on the Pennsylvania/Maryland line, and immigration from Pennsylvania has always had a strong influence on western Maryland. Again the possibility that John Hoover and Andrew Eyster were somehow professionally associated, perhaps master and apprentice, is a real one and should be further explored. In addition to tall case clocks, it is known that John Hoover made at least one watch. The watch is in pieces now, but it is signed under the dial with his name and the date 1830. The movement is full plate with fusee, a type of movement which was beginning to be supplanted by less bulky movements in the early 1800's.

It is not known at this writing whether Francis Hoover ever attempted to practice his father's craft. The only other mention of a Francis Hoover is in James A. Helman's History of Emmitsburg, Maryland, in which Helman writes that Francis Hoover went to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 and that he died there. It is not known whether he took his clock and watch tools with him or whether they remained in Emmitsburg. What a coincidence if some reader of this book should know of their whereabouts!

This is the sum of all available information on these clockmakers of Emmitsburg, Maryland. Naturally the author would be very happy to hear from anyone with more information about these men or their clocks and watches. They were fine craftsmen, and their work deserves to be remembered.

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

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