The site of the former Sessions Clock Company plant was first utilized for clock production starting in 1833. It was at this point that three cabinetmakers, Jonathan C. Brown, William G. Bartholomew, and William Hills, purchased the piece of land along the south bank of the Pequabuck River and acquired the rights to build a dam and clock factory there. Known as the Forestville Manufacturing Company, the firm merged with another local clock manufactory formed by Elisha N. Welch and Thomas Barnes Jr. in 1835, and started producing brass clocks. By 1845, the company was turning out more finished clocks than any other firm in Bristol. In 1853, however, the company’s factory was destroyed by fire. This loss was compounded by financial mismanagement, which drove the company into bankruptcy by 1857. The Forestville Manufacturing Company was subsequently purchased by its largest creditor, which happened to be Elisha Welch. Welch then moved to acquire two other local firms, the F.S. Otis and Forestville Hardware Companies, and merged them with the Forestville Manufacturing Company to form the E.N. Welch Manufacturing Company. This was just one of several industrial entities organized and directed by Welch, other notable examples being Welch, Spring and Company, the Bristol Brass and Clock Company, and the Bristol Manufacturing Company. Welch’s managerial talent and business acumen is clearly evident as his Forestville clock plant quickly returned to profitability and thrived until his death in 1887. Welch’s son James assumed control of the firm following his death, however, James Welch possessed little of his father’s talent and the company fell into receivership by the mid-1890s. Further stresses came as a result of a pair of massive fires that destroyed two of the firm’s manufacturing blocks in 1899, thus forcing the company to borrow money in order to rebuild and resume production. James Welch died three years later, at which time majority control of the nearly-bankrupt company was acquired by William E. Sessions, president of the Sessions Foundry Company, and his nephew, Albert L. Sessions, president of the J.H. Sessions and Son Company. Within a few months of joining the firm, William and Albert Sessions had purchased nearly all of the company’s stock. As a result they changed its name to the Sessions Clock Company early in 1903. The newly reorganized Sessions Clock Company quickly returned to profitability following acquisition by the Sessions family. Substantial sums of money were injected into the plant and equipment, and new technologies, such as electrified movements, were introduced to the company’s product lines. The firm experienced some difficulties during the 1930s, yet largely weathered these storms by increasing its offering of inexpensive electric-powered clocks. Such products continued to help drive the company’s profits during the 1950s, when cheap plastic alarm and kitchen clocks became popular offerings. Another notable innovation from the company during this period was “The Lady,” a family planning clock that could be set in correspondence with a woman’s menstrual cycle in order to aid in family planning. Unfortunately the device was not popular with consumers and was quickly discontinued. Despite their significance role, clocks made up just one-third of the company’s business by the 1950s. Additional lines included a variety of timers and switches used in motors, gear units, and appliances ranging from radios to refrigerators. Although the firm numbered just 200 workers immediately following World War II, these projects helped drive employment to over 1,000 by 1953. Despite this apex of success, the company began to stumble during the late 1950s. In 1969, the firm was acquired by the North American Philips Corporation (Norelco) of Wilmington, Delaware, and its name was changed to the Sessions Company. Norelco’s ventures never met with success and the Bristol plant was closed during the early 1970s.
Roughly twelve (12) primary blocks.
1885, ca. 1900, 1903, 1904, ca. 1910, ca. 1920, ca. 1925, 1926, ca. 1930, late-20th c.
The former Sessions Clock Company plant is comprised of roughly twelve mixed freestanding and adjoining primary blocks forming a sprawling complex located on the north side of East Main Street, opposite Lincoln Avenue. The oldest surviving structure is a three-story, 32’ x 102’ red brick machine shop and wire-drawing building standing approximately 100’ east of Lincoln Avenue. The building was erected in 1885 and is one of just three structures that remain from the property’s ownership by the E.N. Welch Manufacturing Company. The block originally had a gable roof, however, this was replaced by the existing corbelled brick and stone cornice, brick parapet, and flat roof ca. 1930. The building has segmental-arched window openings with stone stills and retains some of the original six-over-six double-hung sash on the third story of its west elevation. The second of the three blocks that survive from the tenure of the E.N. Welch Manufacturing Company stands directly east of the machine shop and wire-drawing building. This is a four-story, 106’ x 37’ red brick building that was erected as a three-story structure ca. 1900, yet was raised to four stories when a four-story, 122’ x 37’ red brick addition was raised on its east elevation ca. 1920. The earlier of the two buildings is notable for the highly-detailed round-arched window openings on its third floor, above which there is a corbelled brick cornice running along what was the building’s original roofline. The details of the fourth story match those of the addition to the east and are characterized by rectangular window openings with concrete sills, a corbelled brick cornice, and stepped parapet with concrete coping. An additional one-story, 150’ x 37’ block was erected along with and adjacent to the ca. 1920 building and is nearly identical in its detailing. On the eastern end of the plant, north of the ca. 1920 blocks, there is a three-story, 162’ x 48’ red brick block that was erected in 1904. This originally housed box making and shipping on its first floor, finishing on the second, and a glass room and case storage on its upper level. The building is of plain mill construction and has rectangular window openings with stone sills, and a corbelled and denticulated brick cornice. Tile coping lines the flat roof. The plant’s powerhouse stands directly northwest of this structure and was likewise erected in 1904. The powerhouse measures 42’ x 64’ and is of red brick construction. It has a gable roof and a 100’-tall brick chimney. The plant’s case shop stands to the west of the powerhouse and is the last of the surviving structures built for the E.N. Welch Manufacturing Company. The three-story, 180’ x 50’ building is similar in detail to the 1904 blocks and connects to the northern end of the 1885 building. A three-story, 146’ x 50’ red brick manufacturing block adjoins its western elevation as well as the 1885 building. This was erected ca. 1925 and has large window openings with hopper-style metal sash. One of the final, yet most recognizable of the buildings associated with the plant is the Tudor Revival style office building. This stands directly opposite Lincoln Avenue and was completed in 1926. The building is notable for its brown brick exterior walls, cast-stone door and window surrounds, and a bay window centered above the primary entry doors. It also has a molded concrete cornice, stepped parapet, and a side-gabled roof with polychromatic slate sheathing. The office contrasts strongly with the utilitarian simplicity of a one-story, 52’ x 130’ red brick japanning block built roughly 130’ west of the plant in 1903, and a two-story, 205’ x 65’ red brick warehouse erected opposite the plant on the north bank of the Pequabuck River ca. 1910.
The factory is in fair condition. The majority of the exterior walls appear to be reasonably well maintained, however, show some signs of staining and minor deterioration. Many of the original wood or metal sash windows throughout the plant have been preserved, however, there are numerous examples where they have been replaced or the window openings infilled or reduced in size.
Three legal parcels (43 & 61 East Main St., and 164 Central Street Rear) totaling 6.88 acres on the north side of East Main Street, opposite Lincoln Avenue.
Lucas A. Karmazinas