The unusual “town clock” in Barnwell is actually a sundial and tells the time by the angle of the sun in the sky. Quite possibly the only one of its kind, it has displayed the accurate time – within two minutes of standard time – for over 150 years.
The vertical sundial is located on Main Street in front of the Barnwell County Courthouse. It was a gift to the city in 1858 from state senator J.D. Allen. Standard time was not officially established until 1884, making this remarkable sundial, decades ahead of its time.
The plaque, seen below, stands near the sundial, detailing its history. The following inscription can be found on the plaque:
“The oldest known device for the measurement of time, a sundial indicates time by the position of the shadow of a gnomon cast by the sun on the face of a dial marked in hours. The gnomon is a flat piece of metal in the center of the dial with its back pointing towards the North Pole when in the northern hemisphere and facing due south and with the upper edge slanting at an angle equal to the altitude of the location of the sundial.
Obtained from Mr. D. B. Hasleton, Ironmonger, of Charleston, S. C., this sundial was presented to the citizens of Barnwell in September, 1858, by Joseph Duncan Allen (1812-1880), benefactor and philanthropist of Barnwell, who served in the Florida Seminole Indian War, Mexican War and Confederate Army, S. C. House of Representatives and S. C. Senate.
Atop the sundial, a cannonball rests which was used in the Confederate War.
Although the adjacent courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1865, the sundial survived and is in its original location. In 1918, a concrete curbing was added as a protection against traffic hazards. The sundial was repainted, additional concrete reinforcement was added at the base and after much research, this plaque was designed and installed on June 3, 1986.
Reflections on the Barnwell Sundial Clock
Contributor Mike Stroud tells us this about using the Barnwell sundial clock: “When adding one hour for daylight savings plus the one minute the table shows for the date, the shadow was within one minute of the correct time, as shown by data stored with photo from camera, 12:33 pm. Close enough for me!”