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Turning Back Time: New Life for Old Clock at Cobb Middle School


One of Tallahassee’s oldest public schools is trying to restore an important part of its history, while also adding some new technology to its campus. The school is reaching out to the community for help.

Sara Hembree is the principal of the Elizabeth Cobb Middle School. She noted it formed one of the Capital City’s original “corridors of learning.”

“Kate Sullivan (Elementary,) Cobb (Middle,) and Leon (High) was one of the traditional pathways of education, so we are in the Old Town neighborhood, one of the original neighborhoods. We feed from Old Town and Betton and some of the historic parts of town. So we are in the heart of the city!”

Cobb Middle School dates back to 1952. Included in the original main entrance building, Hembree said, was an impressive clock tower.

“So the original front of the school faced Hillcrest Street,” she pointed out. “When you walked into the main building, there was the clock tower, the principal’s office and a big lobby. Over time the school expanded and additions were made in the front and back. So in the 1980s the new office was built – again parallel to Hillcrest Street – and now it blocked the original front entrance.”

Also involved in this saga:

“I’m Kim Autry. I’m a former ‘Cobb mom’ and I’m currently campaigning for the ‘Roaring in Time’ saving the clock tower and procuring a digital marquee for Cobb Middle School.”

Because, as Principal Hembree pointed out, the clock in the tower has seen better days.

“No! It does not work!” she exclaimed. “So we actually need whole new parts and Ms. Autry has actually been up in the clock tower.”

“It’s very tiny and deceiving because the outside is so large and big,” Autry interjected. “The inside is actually very small and mechanical. So I went inside to see. I actually tried to take it apart but couldn’t because you need someone on the outside to undo what’s holding the inside parts in place.”

Based on her in-person observations and consultations with people who know about such things, Kim Autry remains optimistic the old clock can be made to run again.

“We have someone who’s going to look into rebuilding it. Maybe we can piece some old and new parts together and rebuild it. Otherwise I do have a company I’m looking at to give us a replacement clock.”

Principal Hembree sees the clock as an important connection, both to the school’s past as well as its link to Tallahassee at large.

“The idea is using the clock tower as a mechanism to connect with our community,” she emphasized. “Obviously being built in the 50s we have decades and generations of people who have gone there. We’re lucky enough now to have students whose grandparents were the first set of people to walk through the doors at Cobb. That is fun! And the idea, too, is to use it as a conversation piece. Yes, we need to raise $30,000 to do all the things we want to do, but it’s also a way for people to attach back to a school that’s part of the community.”

Besides restoring the old clock, Kim Autry said the school also needs to tap more modern technology to enhance its community connection.

“A digital marquee for the front display of the school,” she explained. “Currently we have the old style where you put up the letters each time manually. Now we’re looking to get a bright, flashy two-sided marquee so you can see what’s happening at Cobb.”

Plus, added Principal Hembree, there are plans for a mini-museum, a memorial to Cobb’s rich history.

“In the main lobby we want to take some trophy cases we have and turn them into a Cobb time capsule with old yearbooks, cheerleading uniforms, trophies, footballs; athletics and academics, letterman jackets, photographs (and) class rings.”

Autry said anyone who can help should use these channels. “The Cobb Middle School web page. Under the PTO you can find our link to the ‘Roaring in Time’ media page to give all the information on how to donate. Or you can e-mail me: autryk@leonschools.net, or you can call the school." (850-488-3364)

And, hopefully soon, the historic old Cobb Middle School clock will once again faithfully track the minutes and the hours for more generations of students and teachers.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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