Telling Time at Wyck

During the days before the American Revolution when America was still a collection of colonies, clocks and timepieces were a luxury item few had. Time was an estimation in those days, one people determined by using make-shift sun dials, or by burning candles to figure out how much time had passed. William Penn had high expectations for the use of clocks in his settlement, writing in his book that “the hours for Work and Meals to Labourers, are fixt, and known by Ring of Bell.” Penn enforced the use of clocks early on in his colony, allowing these early settlers of America to have their lives run by the chiming of clocks, much like we do today. Despite Penn’s early ambitions, it was only with the industrial revolution in the mid-eighteenth century that timepieces became widely used. Dirk Jansen was a man ahead of his time, as he bought a beautiful tall case clock in the 1720s, thirty years before clocks became a regular commodity.

Peter Stretch Clock, ca 1720. Photo Credit: Victoria Mueller

Dirk Jansen married Margaret Milan, thus becoming the second generation owner of Wyck. Jansen was responsible for building the front parlor area of the house, which was originally a kitchen and upstairs bedroom for his family. Jansen worked as a weaver prior to 1726, but thereafter was listed as a yeoman, or one who cultivates land. By the end of his life, Jansen was considered a “gentleman,” portraying the familiar success story of many Quakers. As a wealthy man, Jansen purchased a grandfather clock made by Peter Stretch of Philadelphia, another Quaker. Made of a fine walnut veneer, the tall case clock stands in Wyck’s front parlor. This piece of fine furniture was made and running in 1720, long before the American Revolution, and still works to this day.

After Jansen’s death in 1760, the Stretch clock was given to one of his children and eventually left Wyck. Elizabeth Morris Wistar, one of Jansen’s descendants, returned the clock to Wyck in 1988. Mervin Martin was responsible for conserving the clock. He recreated the top, molded section and bun feet using the preserved parts of the clock. Martin further reinstalled the glass door which exposes the pendulum. Randall Cleaver, another clock repairman, worked on the Stretch clock just this year to make it run smoothly. The inner workings of the clock are almost entirely original, except for the bell which was replaced around 1800. Upon a visit to Wyck, one can see the clock standing tall and beautiful in the front parlor, proclaiming the proper time.

Edward Duffield Clock, ca 1740. Photo Credit: Victoria Mueller

In the dining room of Wyck stands another tall case clock, this one created around 1740 by Philadelphian clockmaker Edward Duffield. Caspar Wistar, the third generation owner of Wyck, originally purchased this piece, but Jane Reuben Haines, the seventh generation owner, is responsible for the preservation of the clock and where it stands even today in the house. The clock was special to Jane, so she had it bolted to the wall in the dining room and stated in her will that the clock was not to leave Wyck. Over one hundred years later the clock has never left the house. Randall Cleaver repaired the Duffield clock this year, allowing the piece to once again tick away the minutes.

Today these clocks at Wyck still work. Chimes can be heard throughout the house on the hour, every hour. Peter Stretch and Edward Duffield were men renowned in their field; Stretch created the clock which stood in Philadelphia’s Town Hall, and legend has it Benjamin Franklin himself commissioned Duffield to start building clocks. These clocks only need to be wound every eight days, and a staff member at Wyck is excited to perform this task, as the owners of the house did once before.

Vicki winding Peter Stretch clock May 2017
Wyck Employee Vicki Mueller winding the Peter Stretch Clock. Photo Credit: Jennifer Carlson


Works Cited:

Davies, Alun C. “The Industrial Revolution and Time.” The Open University. 1 December, 2005. Web. < technology-and-medicine/history-technology/the-industrial-revolution-and-time>

“Notes on Documented Furniture at Wyck.” Furniture. Box 1: Research Subject Files A-K. Wyck Association Archives.

Penn, William. A Further Account of the Province of Pennsylvania. Warminghurst Place, 1685. <;view=fulltext>

Smiley, Michelle. “Clocks and Clockmakers.” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. 2017. Web. <>