Chauncey Boardman, a clockmaker whose pieces are timeless

Published on Sunday, 12 September 2021 17:51


Here’s a condensed “Builders of Bristol” version of mine on Chauncey Boardman, which was originally written by Janet Dibble, a local historic-minded woman, during our city’s bicentennial celebration in 1976:

Chauncey used to be a popular name for Bristol boys and Bristol had at least a dozen Chaunceys who were prominent in its history. Among them was Chauncey Boardman, one of the most important of the early clockmakers in Bristol. He is remembered by Boardman Road, which runs through property he once owned.

There was a constant change and improvement in the clock industry while he was in it, and he kept pace with the changes. He started making hang-up and tall clocks with wooden movements, adjusting as the business shifted: first to shelf clocks with wooden movements, then to brass movements. He was also influential in replacing weights with springs. He left the industry about the time that coiled springs were being freed of the need for their fuzee cones.

Chauncey was born in 1789, but details of his early life are missing. About 1811, it was recorded that he and Butler Dunbar - nephew of the ill-fated Moses Dunbar - erected a small shop in Bristol near the site of the Stanley Industrial Components Division of Stanley works at 33 Stafford Avenue. This was where the Humason Shop was once in use. In 1812 Boardman bought out the entire business.

Commerce was in a depressed state in 1815 and the following year because of the war with Great Britain, however, Boardman had been successful in selling his wall clocks. He also learned how to make and produce new types of movements and was able to sell them to casemakers.

In 1832, the firm of Boardman, Smith & Co. came into being and that lasted one year before Boardman joined up with Col. Joseph A. Wells. This prosperous firm made huge numbers of clocks in utilizing as many as four factories at one time. One of the most important of these locations was the factory in Forestville near the “Turnpike,” where Bonnie’s Inn would later be.

The firm made clocks with wooden movements, reportedly one of the first that made eight-day movements. In 1838, the company began to use movements of rolled brass, weight driven, and were the first here to experiment with springs. Production continued until 1843 when the firm went out of business. Boardman and Wells each went separate ways. Boardman used his name in making Gothic and regular shelf steeples, which were spring driven after a design by Elisa Ingraham. Boardman made about 30,000 of these a year

After many years of successful clockmaking, Boardman encountered difficulties in his later years. This included labor problems in Bristol, and the trust or cartel type of organization had come into being in an attempt to regulate prices. One of the first of these was The Connecticut Protective Clock Company, organized about 1849 in which the Bristol businessman did not join. This likely presented pressure on his part to obtain unrestricted supplies of raw materials and clock parts. Eventually, his business failed in December 1850.

Boardman died in Bristol on Aug. 11, 1857 at the age of 68. He is buried in the Old North Cemetery on Lewis Street. Many clocks bearing the name of Boardman and Wells are still in existence as testimony of his abilities as a clockmaker.

Contact Bob Montgomery at or by calling 860-583-5132.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Sunday, 12 September 2021 17:51. Updated: Sunday, 12 September 2021 17:54.