Willard Clock House & Museum
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The Willard House & Clock Museum dates
back to the mid 1700s when Benjamin and his brothers, Simon, Ephraim and Aaron
started making fine clocks. Three generations of the Willards produced clocks,
including many at the Museum as well as throughout some historic buildings in
the Nation. Come see these family heirlooms, a wonderful herb garden and more.
On May 18, 2008 the
Massachusetts State Society Daughters of American Colonists held a dedication
ceremony at the Willard House and Clock Museum. The plaque was placed in
recognition of the birthplace and original workshop of the Willard Clockmakers.
Among those in attendance at the ceremony were State Representative George
Peterson, Willard House Trustee, Larry Chemlow and John Stephens, Director of
the Willard House and Clock Museum.
DAC State Regent Gail
E Terry and State Chairman of the Historic Landmarks
and Memorials Committee Julie E. Theroux conducted the dedication ceremony.
One of the objects of the Daughters of
American Colonists is to locate, research and mark sites of historical
importance to the American colonists.
For more information about
Daughters of American Colonists http://hometown.aol.com/massdac/
The Willard House and Clock Museum
The Willard House and Clock Museum is a historic site which evolved into a
museum in 1971 thanks in large part to the Dr. Robinson family of Grafton. This
scenic early 18th century homestead houses the world’s largest collection of the
famed Willard family’s handsomely crafted clocks. On the winding country road of
Willard Street in North Grafton, MA, this historic home was the farmstead and
eventually included a workshop for the famed Willard Clockmakers who designed
and invented many new mechanisms and various styles of clocks from the mid 1700s
- 1848. Though the Willards eventually moved their workshop to Roxbury, Benjamin
Willard sparked the trade for three generations of Willards when he became a
successful clockmaker which also spurred interest and talent from his brothers
Simon, Ephraim, and Aaron Willard.
The museum is still very much modeled after what the Willard workshop might have
looked like in the eighteenth century. Before entering the home, there is a
small garden patch for simple herbs and vegetables known as the kitchen garden
of centuries ago. Then as you enter the home, the fireplace in the modest
wood-planked entry way still has a musket hanging handily on the wall. The only
apparent difference, at first glance, is the lovely gift shop filled with
As you stroll into the next room, the huge golden gallery clock stands out among
more than eighty other carefully crafted specimens found throughout the two main
clock-laden rooms. As the hour turns, the chimes and ringing goes on for many,
many minutes throughout the home and workshop. The eighty plus clocks range in
style from “ Turret, Gallery, Skeleton, Tall Case, Regulator, Eddystone
Lighthouse, Act of Parliament, Lyre, Massachusetts Shelf, Improved Timepiece and
30-Hour Primitives,“ according to John Stephens, curator of the museum. Although
not the most impressive museum in size and stature, its simplicity strengthens
the aura of profound innovation in craftsmanship that these walls contained over
two hundred years ago!
Grafton’s history of the Willard family dates back to 1716 when Joseph Willard
and Martha Clarke purchased land from Ezekial Corlett. Corlett had acquired the
land during the 17th century when he was teaching English to Nipmuc Indians from
John Eliot’s Christian Praying Village. According to historian Harry Richardson,
the Indians didn’t have the money to pay Corlett, so he received land instead.
The area was then known as Hassanemessit, a “place of small stones” which was
eventually named after the English Duke of Grafton when incorporated in 1735.
Joseph and Martha Willard gave birth to Hassanamessit’s first white child,
Sarah, and they became the grandparents of clockmakers Benjamin, Simon, Aaron,
and Ephraim. In 1716, the Nipmuc Indians still roamed and controlled the area,
yet many of the Nipmucs had been forced to Deer Isle or treated horribly during
and after King Philip’s War of 1675-76.
The Willard homestead was built in 1718 and in 1735, Joseph Willard was one of
forty men who put together an offer to purchase the eight mile tract that became
Grafton. The Grafton Common square was laid out immediately which also still
stands today, a few miles away and surrounded by the traditional Congregational
Church, other historic churches and buildings. The Willards were farmers and
much of the land around the Museum is still rural, with some new residences
interspersed with Tufts Veterinary farmlands down the country road. The setting
is very scenic, well-suited for the many events held at the Museum throughout
the year, such as a Colonial Trades Fair in June, Colonial Muster Day, basket
workshops, American Girl teas and other vintage type programs.
In the mid 1700s, young Benjamin Willard went off as an apprentice under a
clockmaker named Benjamin Cheney. Benjamin Willard learned his trade and
returned to Grafton after two years of tutelage under Mr. Cheney and he opened
his own workshop by 1766. His younger brothers became interested in clockmaking
and the brothers worked together to craft some of the most elite clocks in
America at that time.
In 1802, Simon Willard gained great recognition for a new style of clock he had
produced. This style was known as a “banjo” clock. Simon quickly got a patent
for his clock which became a well established part of clock history as its style
and shape influenced future generations of clock making. The clocks were
irregularly shaped like a banjo, usually measuring 37 inches long and
approximately a foot wide and about 8 inches high. Simon’s great work lead him
to be hired by President Thomas Jefferson to make a clock for the University of
Virginia which was crafted in 1825 as well as three other clocks that would make
their home in the United States Capitol building.
The museum is a non-profit open throughout the year for tours. Many volunteers
work hard to sustain it financially, produce events and give tours and an Annual
Robinson Lecture. Grafton school children, usually fifth graders, make an annual
visit to this treasure but still, many area residents are unaware of this
historic treasure. With over $1,000,000 of theft and damage insurance, this
relatively unknown treasure is well-respected the world over. The Museum is
filled with portraits, the workshop with the Willard hand craft tools, as well
as lovely grounds which enhance its appeal. The gift shop has many books on the
history of the Willards, Willard style clocks, and other collectibles that
represent the accomplishments of three generations of the Willard family. The
original workshop from 1766 has been preserved in the house and is on display
there as well. So visit the website for hours and directions because it’s truly
a treasure to enjoy. www.willardhouse.org