An icon, symbol, and memory

UDM students pass near it while walking to and from class without giving it a second thought or glance.

It is the university’s most recognizable symbol – a structure older than most buildings on campus.

It can be seen from some point in almost every building.

University of Detroit Mercy’s clock tower is one of the most unique and underrated features on the McNichols campus.

Aside from its iconic stature, the clock tower has significant historical value.

Engineering, Chemistry, Lansing-Reilly and the powerhouse were the McNichols campus’ first four buildings.

Protruding from the coal-burning powerhouse that kept the whole university up and running was a giant smokestack.

University officials decided long ago that the smokestack was not an appealing feature, so they decided to build the clock tower around it.

Honoring the design of the current buildings, the clock tower was built in sandstone, even though the smokestack itself is covered with brick.

Shortly after other university buildings were finished in 1926, the clock tower was completed in 1927.  

Standing a whopping 203 feet, it is one of the largest clock towers at any university in Michigan. University of Michigan’s Burton Tower is slightly larger at 212 feet.

One of the most unique qualities about UDM’s clock tower is its memorial to the men of University of Detroit who lost their lives in World War I.

On the north side of the clock tower is this engraved memorial and 12 names:


To the University of Detroit men who died in the World War 1914-18

Our honored dead

John DesChamps, Charles Harrison, Louis Mans, Edwards J. Burns, Thomas G. Kennedy, Alfred Fuller, Rogers McNamara, James Williams, Lionel Eslin, Russel McBrearty, William J. Wilkinson, Thomas Abery

From relatives, alumni and students


Burton Tower at University of Michigan also was dedicated to the men who died in the war. However, there is no such marker on the tower itself.

“It’s awesome that the clock tower is dedicated to the men who died in World War I,” said Rosanna Reynolds, a five-year MBA student. “It shows that the university really cares about its students.”

The only access to the clock tower is through the powerhouse.  

Inside the powerhouse is a spiral staircase that leads to the roof, approximately 55 feet from floor level.  

There, a small door on the east side of the clock tower allows access to the re-rod handles that lead all the way to the top of the tower.  

From the ground, the four clocks are 168 feet up, the four bells are 185 feet up and the finials mark the tip-top of the tower at 203 feet.

“I love the clock tower,” said Brie Wilcox, a biology major. “It tells me what time it is when I’m in classes that don’t have clocks. I really like when they light it up for Christmas, too.”

The bells ring at every hour and half hour. They ring the number of times of the hour: six hours at 6 p.m., for example. On the half hour, it rings once.  

The bells draw so much power that the lights flicker inside the powerhouse when the ringing begins.  

When it comes time to switch to or from daylight savings time, changing the clocks is quite a challenge.  

The clock is controlled electronically, but cannot be rewound or fast forwarded.  

It must be shut down until that time becomes the actual time. Then it is started up again.

Facility personnel do it themselves twice a year.

Those who have had the opportunity to climb the tower say it’s a scary but interesting climb.

Back when the university had an ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) program, part of the training curricula was to climb the clock tower and parachute down from it.

The ROTC program was removed in the 1960s amidst conflicting views on violence and the Vietnam War.

For the last many years, falcons have been residing in the clock tower’s inner chambers.  

They typically can be seen in the early summer mornings, though few people do get the opportunity to view them.

The DNR has tagged the adults, but there is no trace of any offspring.

The clock tower has stood the test of time and celebrated its 88th birthday this year.  

From lightning strikes to being re-tuck-pointed, the clock tower has seen it all.

While many universities have renovated or even demolished their clock towers, UDM does not plan to change anything about the clock tower, workers said.

It still provides a sturdy shield for the smoke stack, and it is still one of the university’s most original structures.

Though students generally welcome campus renovations, the clock tower is definitely one they don’t mind remaining vintage.

“It looks good just the way it is,” said Wilcox. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”