Swift County looking to bring music back to life in clock tower in Benson, Minnesota


— When time stopped in the

Swift County

Courthouse clock tower more than 40 years ago, the music died as well.

Now that the clocks are running, it's time to bring back the music and chimes.

That's the message an ad hoc citizens group known as the Chimes Committee brought to the Swift County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

"I'm supportive of it," said commissioner Eric Rudningen, who was among the commissioners stating that the county is willing to continue working with the group.

Chimes Committee chair Pete Iverson said the committee is willing to raise funds towards the purchase of a digital Carillon system from the Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio for the clock tower. The county would consider either helping upfront the purchase of the system contingent on the fundraising effort, or possibly provide financial help if the effort did not raise the full amount needed, Rudningen told the group.

The system will cost $16,200 to possibly $18,000, depending on various options available for it, according to information presented at the meeting.

The commissioners also expressed a willingness for county involvement in overseeing the operation of the sound system, but want participation by citizen committee members. Board Chair Pete Peterson pointed out that at the start of operations, there is almost certain to be some criticism from people about issues such as the volume, frequency of play and the like. He said it would be important to have a group able to address any concerns.

The system being considered for the clock tower would be built by the 181-year-old Verdin Company. According to the company's product manager, Dewey Kuhn, it could be installed in about eight to 10 weeks if ordered. He demonstrated the system to the commissioners. He emphasized that the system provides high-quality sound, is easy to operate, and can be adapted to the county's individual situation. It can provide a full range of bell tones, chimes and musical selections from a repertoire of over 7,000 songs.

The system could sound chimes or bells every hour or every fifteen minutes if desired. It can play patriotic or seasonal holiday music based on a set program or by remote control. It automatically lowers the volume during the night hours.

Jim Hilleren, a Chimes Committee member, led the drive over two years ago to restore the tower clocks. The courthouse clock tower was constructed in 1897, but the county did not have funds to install clocks at the time.

In 1976, as part of the country's bicentennial, clocks were placed in the north, south and east faces of the tower. In a few years' time, mechanical problems beset the clocks. The clock hands were frozen in time at 12, 12:02 and 7:15 for about four decades.

What is now the Chimes Committee raised several thousand dollars towards their restoration and the county allocated additional funds for the clocks. The clocks were dedicated in the summer of 2022, and have kept time ever since.

Iverson said committee members have met with a number of community members about returning chimes or sound to the towers, and have found lots of support. "We know that there are a lot of people, different clubs, (and) different organizations already ready to raise money for this project," he told the commissioners.

That effort already has a jump start. At the 2022 dedication for the clocks, a young girl in the community spoke about her pride in seeing the clocks operating again. The fourth-grade student later sent the Chimes Committee a $50 donation from money she earned doing errands towards this next project, Iverson told the Tribune.