Home  Article

Restoring the Great Clock at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

by Bonnie Mottaghi
Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Great Clock at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia is one of Monticello’s most familiar and celebrated objects. The clock was built to Thomas Jefferson’s specifications and has remained in the Hall at Monticello since 1804. “It is a rare survivor and an original artifact,” explains Gardiner Hallock, Robert H. Smith Director of Restoration and Collections, “one that has kept time of many of the momentous events on the mountaintop.”

In February 2020, the Americana Foundation awarded a grant to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) to support extensive conservation of the Great Clock’s exterior and interior. Since March 2020, Monticello’s curatorial and restoration teams have been working with outside contractors to effectuate the restoration. The first task was to deinstall the gong and striker on the roof to determine whether they need to be conserved. Then the main components of the clock were deinstalled, labeled, measured, and staged for transport. A specialized contractor team crated the various clock components and transported them to workshops in Williamsburg and Montross, Virginia for restoration. The clock exterior was examined to identify appropriate restoration activities. TJF believes that this is the first time in at least 100 years that the entire clock has left Monticello.

Throughout the process, TJF has used social media and other communication channels to inform and educate the public about the project. A video  of the deinstallation was posted as part of a content series that highlights the origin of and details about the architecture, furniture, and other objects at Monticello. Blog posts on Monticello’s website and on social media channels have described the importance of the clock and the need for the restoration project. Information about the project was included in Monticello’s e-newsletter and on a new digital content series, Monticello LIVE.

TJF expects the project to be completed and the clock re-installed in Fall 2020. In the meantime, there is a two-dimensional replica of the clock in the Entrance Hall on brackets, which will allow tour guides to continue to tell its story. The Americana Foundation is proud to partner with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to ensure that the Great Clock continues to serve as an educational focal point at Monticello, engaging the public in stories of creativity, innovation, engineering, history, and conservation.  You can find more information about the restoration project on Monticello’s blog.  

Since 1923, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has preserved and operated Monticello, the plantation home and masterpiece of founding father and third president, Thomas Jefferson. A National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Monticello has welcomed more than 29 million visitors. Learn more about visiting Monticello at Monticello.org.