Sunday, November 2, 2014

NOVEMBER 2, 1814

200 years ago today in Washington County, Indiana there was no standard time or daylight savings time.   In 1814 there was only local mean time throughout the United States and the rest of the world.  Local mean time was based upon noon when the sum was at the zenith of its daily transit from horizon to horizon.  This means that when Washington County was being settled each locality had its own time.  As an example, noon at Cincinnati, Ohio would have occurred about 6 minutes before it occurred in the developing town of Salem, Indiana.  Similarly, noon would have occurred in Salem about 16 minutes before it occurred at St. Louis, Missouri Territory.  In the days before the development of an extensive transportation infrastructure, these differences in local mean time were of no concern.

In 1814 there were not yet industrial employers that demanded a starting time to a work shift.  There was no stage line in Salem until 1830 so there was no departure time to miss or arrival time to await. Most people awakened at dawn when the roosters crowed. However, local legal and civic affairs were conducted on some type of schedule although there was undoubtedly a considerable degree of latitude as to when events actually commenced.  Persons were summoned to court to appear at a set date with the understanding that one appeared at the start of the day and waited their turn.  The Washington Circuit Court probably had all appearances scheduled for the same implicit time and dealt with each case when all were determined to be present.  At the end of the day if someone did not appear they were then determined to be in default on in violation of their appearance bond.  Each court session in 1814 adjourned until the "next morning" with no beginning time recorded.

The William Lindley home where public business was being conducted until a court house was built must have had a clock of some kind.  In 1814 most clocks were tall casework (grandfather) clocks.  The height of the clock cabinet accommodated the pendulum mechanism which provided the momentum for the mechanical energy that made the clock run.  A longer pendulum kept more accurate time but tall case clocks were expensive as most were made in Massachusetts or Connecticut.  The mechanical parts were made of wood as brass was generally unavailable due to trade restriction of the War of 1812.  The mechanical power for the clocks consisted of iron weights suspended from small cables and pulleys. If a family had a grandfather clock, they probably had been former landowners in Kentucky as settlers immigrating to Indiana directly from Virginia or North Carolina often didn’t use valuable space or load capacity for such a large and delicate item. Wall clocks were available for purchase in Louisville but were not as accurate.  By 1810 smaller shelf clocks were being made and wore more affordable.  They had to be wound daily.  Pocket watches were possessed by some of the pioneer men of the Indiana Territory.  Watches of that era used a cylinder escapement mechanism and were not terribly accurate.  By 1820, pocket watches were being made with a lever escapement which made them more accurate so that they only varied from solar time by a minute a day.

200 years ago, it is not known what clock was maintained by County or Town officials to determine the official local mean time.  One can speculate that Thomas Beasley’s tavern on South High Street had a clock that may have been the unofficial clock as Beasley was also on the first Board of Town Trustees.  Interestingly, the new court house under construction was not to have a clock mounted in its tower or on its exterior.  When the second Washington County Court House was built in 1826, it didn’t have a clock tower either.  It wasn’t until 1888 when the present Court House was built that Salem had its iconic Court House clock tower.  Five years previously, the railroad industry had lobbied for the establishment of standard time so that train schedules could be made uniform and travel and commerce made more efficient.  Therefore, the Court House clock has always been set on Standard or Daylight Savings time and never was set on local solar time.

Imagine this conversation when John DePauw came to town from  his home on the hill southeast of Salem  to collect lot payments and stopped at Beasley's Tavern:

DePauw:    Tom, what time is it?
Beasley:      You mean now?




                                      TALL CASE PENDULUM CLOCK


                                                   TRADITIONAL ALARM CLOCK


                                  WASHINGTON COUNTY COURT HOUSE CLOCK TOWER

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