The handsome stone clock tower in Wellesley Hills Square is one of the town’s best-known landmarks. In addition to beautifying the area and marking the passage of time, it serves as a memorial to three men who contributed much to the Wellesley community.
Before Wellesley was incorporated as a separate town, this section of West Needham was known as “Grantville.” The tower stands at the intersection of Washington Street, once an old Indian path, and the Worcester Turnpike, now Route 9, constructed in the early 19th century as a modern toll road. Before the advent of the railroad, stagecoaches passed through Grantville on the way to New York. Travelers often spent the first night at the Elm Park Hotel, built about 1811 on the site of the present tower. The hotel later became a popular watering hole for summer visitors, who enjoyed the cool breezes and bucolic countryside.
But by the early 20th century, the abandoned hotel stood in ruins. When it was demolished about 1908, prominent Boston banker and local resident Isaac Sprague (1859-1934) led the effort to buy the land and donate “Elm Park” to the town.
The next chapter in the clock tower story takes place in the early 1920s, when the Shaw School at the corner of Forest and Washington Streets was demolished. The school had been named for John W. Shaw, a public-spirited local resident who had donated the clock and bell.
Re-enter Isaac Sprague, who chaired the committee to build a suitable new home for the Shaw clock and bell. The resulting 65-foot high Colonial Revival-style tower was completed in 1928, using granite fieldstones from Sprague’s property. After his death in 1934, the tower was officially named the Isaac Sprague Memorial Clock Tower.
In the early 1940s, a group of Wellesley residents obtained permission to place two bronze tablets on the tower. One carries the name of John W. Shaw and, “the little group of good citizens of the 1860s and 1870s to whom we owe so much…” The second tablet is in memory of architect Benjamin Proctor Jr., (1878-1939) who designed the clock tower and supervised its construction.