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Bernie Tomasso
Port Byron Central School District
Port Byron, New York

New York Time

The Clock Tower

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photo of the building when it was first opened

In 1842-1843, the First Presbyterian Church of Port Byron was built. With a clock tower that seemed to touch the clouds and was visible from most every place in town, it became a center of attention, and later on, a kind of historical monument. With a large clock face, huge hands, and a gigantic bell that could be rung, it was a great spectacle to behold. The church building was greatly appreciated by most all of the townspeople.

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This is a postcard of the church.  Note the slope of the road.

In 1950, there was dedication of the chimes that were placed in the century old church tower to ring for generations to come. The dedication was then called the Tower Music Memorial, a memorial for Earl Wethey. In 1951, the members of the Baptist Church of Port Byron joined the Presbyterians, forming the Federated Church of Port Byron.

On the night before Labor Day of 1998, there was a huge storm (now called the Labor Day Storm) that significantly damaged homes, mangled and tore down hundreds of trees, and destroyed the beautiful church. In the beginning, it was thought to be some sort of tornado, but was later classified as a wind sheer. As church members mourned the loss of their beautiful church building, they examined the wreckage, bringing out choir robes and food from the neighborhood food pantry. It seemed that the church’s clock tower had been lifted up and dropped on the rest of the building. The nearby neighbors said they had heard nothing but the wind howling like an enormous freight train. The church didn't collapse on either house next to it, but instead fell on itself.

Though the back of the church was completely smashed - along with the gorgeous stained glass window depicting Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane - the front, with it's large white columns and the basement were left intact. Later on, by some great miracle, the praying hands of Jesus were found intact. The clock tower remained mostly intact on top of the rubble. Looking out from in front of the church building's remains, you could see a path of trees that had been knocked down before the wind destroyed the church building.

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The clock, toward the last years of the church building, had stopped working. The village board was asked to fix it, but it wasn't done before the building was demolished that night. The bell, which was in the tower, is still intact and is in the keeping of one of the church board members.

Through it all remained the sign in front of the church, offering hope to all of the people who lost their church building and clock tower. The sign simply said, "This is just a building. The people who worship here are the church."

After all of that, we are moving on. With our hopes, dreams, and mission in sight, we are building a new Federated Church of Port Byron. While worshiping out of town in what was the Free Methodist Church, we realized that we wanted to be back in our community, closer to the people who need us. In a way, the fall of the clock tower and the church building was a blessing, to help us find where exactly we want to go and what exactly we want to do. Our church seems to be stronger than ever and ready to face all of the challenges that lay on the road ahead with an open mind and a renewed faith.

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Distant shot gives a perspective of how the clock tower was an integral part of the community and dominated the village.

The storm demolished the church last night
Helping move things out of the church, I feel awful about the loss
Emotional people look on and help us as we bring out cans, dishes, choir robes

Friends go home and bring back boxes
Even risking hurting themselves to save pieces of windows.
Everything downstairs has water damage
Rafters, wood, and stained glass are everywhere
All the church members are here
They help in any way they can
Emotions pour out as we remember days gone by

Caring neighbors tell the story of
How they found out the church was gone.
Under the damage
Remembering the storm
Cleanup continues
Happiness seems far away.

Carrie W. and Becky P. were the students involved in this project.