2011-02-17 / News

The curious case of the Carr Homestead Claggett clock

By Cindy Cingone

The story of the Carr Homestead Claggett clock is an unusual one that dates back more than three centuries. The rare grandfather clock was stolen in 1977 and mysteriously turned up for auction on eBay 33 years later, in 2010. The robbery took place in April 1977 at the Carr Homestead Estate on 90 Carr Lane in Jamestown.

Other valuable antique items were stolen that day, such as storm lights, a barrel chair and matching footstool, but nothing saddened the Carr family more than the disappearance of their beloved grandfather clock.

Prior to the theft, the Carr Homestead clock sat in the southeast corner of the front-room parlor for over 300 years. The grandfather clock was one of only four clocks handcrafted by Thomas Claggett and the hand-painted finish depicted the Jamestown shoreline as visualized from the Newport side.

Above the face of the clock was a boat that rocked back and forth as the clock ticked away the time. Somewhere along its 300- year history, the boat went missing, but nonetheless, the clock faithfully chimed the hours for generations of the Carr family during their visits to the estate.

After that fateful day in April 1977, Thomas Carr, director of Carr Homestead Grounds and Maintenance, filed a robbery complaint with the Jamestown Police Department.

After an investigation, the police concluded that the intruder gained entry into the home through the lower half of the kitchen window. They found the screen on the ground below the window. Thomas told the police that his relative, Beth Carr, was the last person to have checked the Carr Homestead prior to the theft. Beth confirmed to the police that she had coincidentally performed a household inventory two weeks before the alleged crime. Beth presented the police with a photo of the clock.

The Carr Homestead clock was valued on the police report at $15,000. The insurance company paid the Carr family $1,000 for their loss and requested they be notified should the clock ever be recovered.

The police statement noted, “No reputable antique dealer would purchase the clock as [the dealer] would definitely know the clock was stolen.” The police closed the investigation. No person responsible for the theft was ever apprehended. The priceless Claggett clock was not to be seen again, until a keen eye of one of the Carr family descendants spotted the clock for sale on Jan. 28, 2010 on eBay.

Dr. Mark Carr, a dentist from Cameron, Mo., first heard of the theft during a visit to Jamestown. While taking a tour of the Carr Homestead, Pam Carr told him the story of the family’s missing clock. Pam told Mark how much of a tragic loss the theft of the clock was to the family.

“The grandfather clock was the heart of the home,” Pam said. “It sat in the same corner of the same room of the same house since the late 1700s when it was first purchased by Nicholas Carr.”

Nicholas was the eldest son of Caleb Carr, the governor of Rhode Island in 1695. As a placard above the front entrance states, Nicholas built the Carr Homestead in 1776, although some reports say that it may have been built before 1740, and perhaps as early as the 1720s. Following construction, Nicholas purchased the clock from Claggett and anchored it onto the southeast corner of the living room.

The probe was still ongoing more than three centuries later, when Mark, who is a member of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers and the National

Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, started a sixyear investigation into the disappearance of the family clock. His inquisition led him to the attempted online sale of the clock last year by someone who resided in Brandon, Miss.

Mark contacted the Jamestown Police, but before the seller’s name could be released, the insurance company had to be notifi ed – after the insurers were informed of the located clock, the Carr Homestead Foundation had to repay the $1,000 claim, plus 33 years of interest.

The Jamestown Police contacted the Brandon Police Department, who approached the alleged dealer. The seller was asked to produce a bill of sale. The bill of sale alleged that the clock was purchased in Massachusetts for $650 on June 11, 1975, almost two years before the robbery.

The police officer noticed that the bill of sale was hastily written on a corner piece of newspaper and the officer casually turned the bill of sale over. On the opposite side, the officer noticed that the newspaper clipping was from the Boston Herald American, dated May 1, 1977, a month after the Carr Homestead clock had been stolen.

The eBay auctioneer was advised that the property they were attempting to sell was stolen and to be returned to the Carr family immediately. A photo of the “Mississippi Clock” was examined and compared to a photo of the Carr Homestead Claggett clock and determined by four qualified antique dealers – Leigh Keno, Gary Sullivan and Sean Delaney of PBS Antique Roadshow, and Richard Cheney of Christies Auctioneers and Appraisers – that the clocks in the two photos were identical.

According to Sullivan, an antique clock specialist for 35 years, the grain patterns in the wood of both sides of the photos could be matched like a fingerprint. He also said that the splotches and figuring in the grain, particularly in the pendulum door, could also be matched perfectly.

Both photos also showed interruptions in the finish in identical places on the upper left corner of the dial door and in the tympanum just above it. Also, the face of the clock, with the missing boat piece and painted coastal scene, is exceedingly rare, according to Sullivan. Only one other example of this type is known and it is housed in a very different case than this one.

“The gentlemen from the Antiques Roadshow made me promise to give them a tour of the house and Jamestown when we recover the clock,” Mark said.

After the two photos were examined, the seller agreed to speak with Steve Dufour, president of the Carr Homestead Foundation, once the police made arrangements to return the clock to the Carr family.

Dufour waited and waited for a call to no avail. Dufour made several attempts to contact the seller until finally he was told that the seller would not return the clock. The seller had been seeking $50,000 as payment for the grandfather clock.

Dufour, on behalf of the Carr Homestead Foundation, filed a lawsuit against the seller, blocking any future sale of the Claggett clock. In addition to the Brandon and Jamestown police departments, the FBI was also asked to assist in the matter, which is going to trial in Mississippi.

The Carr Homestead is the oldest home in the United States to inhabit the same American family for the longest amount of time. Affectionately known as “The Homestead,” the two-anda half story traditional Rhode Island farmhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. It is in the Guinness

Book of World Records and was also home to the first library in Jamestown.

The farmhouse has been a gathering place for generations of Carrs. The Carr Homestead Foundation currently owns it, and family descendants can use the home for summer vacations. It acquaints younger Carr descendants to their ancestors’ way of life.

“I would like the people of Jamestown to think of this clock as their treasure as well,” Mark said. “It was made by Thomas Claggett and it is one of the most famous clocks in the United States. It is especially valuable to Jamestown because Thomas Claggett painted a scene of Jamestown as viewed from Newport on the face of the clock. I don’t know of any paintings of Jamestown, especially by a famous clock maker like Thomas Claggett, that date to 1740.

Mark said by closing the 34-year-old robbery case, “[It would] benefit the history and heritage of Jamestown.”

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