Willito Kelsey Bristol (1897-1969), always called W. K., was the great-grandson of Bezaleel Bristol (1782-1859) – one of the earliest settlers of Almont. His family farm, Brookwood Orchard, straddles Bordman Road at the intersections of Kidder Road. W. K.’s grandson, Charles “Chuck” Bristol now operates the orchard.
W. K. didn’t like his given name of Willito – means little William in Spanish – so he always went by W. K. Since we lived immediately west of Brookwood and his granddaughter Linda Bristol was in my class at school, I knew him as Grandpa Bristol.
W. K., his father, William Howard Bristol (1859-1932) and his sons, William James Bristol (1926-2016) and Robert Wallace Bristol (1931-1984), all were graduates of Michigan State University (MSU). When W. K. and his father graduated MSU was known as Michigan Agricultural College (MAC).
He was a past president of the Michigan Horticultural Society and served on the Michigan Apple Commission for 13 years and the Michigan Cherry Commission for 12 years.
In 1952, he began collecting clocks. His initial collection was only four clocks but he had a friend who was also into collecting clocks. When the friend decided to sell his collection, W. K. bought the friend’s 40 clocks. The collection was initially stored in W. K.’s home on Bordman Road.
In 1959, W. K.’s barn on the south side of Bordman Road burned. We could see the glow and flames of the fire from our house. To replace this barn, W. K. built a larger cement block processing and storage facility on the north side of Bordman. In this building, he included an office area where he could store his collection.
By 1965, the collection had grown to over 300 clocks. In the winter months when there wasn’t much to do in the orchards, W. K. would work on repairing the clocks that had stopped running. He maintained that any clock, regardless of age, could be made to run again.
Included in the collection were a number of unusual and unique clocks. He had the oldest cuckoo clock in America. It had been brought from Nice, France by a movie actor, Christian Rub. He had a clock made to be sold at the 1893 World’s Fair, a clock from a World War II ship, an English collect that had both a 12-hour dial and a 24-hour dial and a calendar. His oldest clock dated to 1701.
He had a clock as small as a matchbox and as large as the clock still mounted to the outside of the barn. Initially, the clock on the outside of the barn was connected to a bell and rang on the hour. The neighborhood was wakened from its sleep when it was first installed. I do not recall if we got use to the sound of the bell or he disconnected the bell from the clock.
W. K.’s one regret was that he could not get all of the clocks on exactly the same time. It must have been very noisy in his office about noon when the clocks began to ring and chime.