If you would have told me a few months ago that one of the world’s most incredible handmade clock collections is located in a small northeast Iowa town, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But after stumbling upon Spillville’s Bily Clocks Museum I was blown away.
Located thirteen miles southwest of Decorah, the Bily Clocks Museum houses a collection of dozens of handmade clocks crafted by two local brothers. While there are no photos allowed inside the museum, these clocks and their intricate details aren’t something you’ll soon forget.
We visited the museum on a sunny Saturday morning and enjoyed a short guided tour of the various clocks and their histories by one of the group’s historians. Since some of these clocks are close to 100 years old, this is the only way you’ll be able to hear them chime, move, and come alive in the most unexpected of ways.
Table of Contents
A bit of history about the Museum
Brothers Frank and Joseph Bily grew up on a farm near Spillville, Iowa in the late 1800s. At young ages became interested in carving (and even carved up their desks at school). The brothers stopped attending school after the fifth grade and never traveled more than 35 miles from their home in Spillville. As they grew more and more experienced, the brothers shared their love of history, nature, and architecture through their creations. Frank, the younger of the two brothers, was the master carver while Joseph was the mechanic and engineer behind all of their moving creations.
Between 1923 and 1927, the brothers carved the American Pioneer History Clock. The clock stands at nine feet tall and weighs more than 500 pounds. After its completion Henry Ford offered to buy the clock for $1 million. But the brothers said no. In fact, they never sold a single one of their clocks.
The brothers relocated their collection of clocks to Spillville in 1946 and bequeathed them to the town under the conditions that they never be sold or moved from their current location. To this day, the only place you can experience a Bily clock is in northeast Iowa.
Learn more about the Bily Clocks Museum through Iowa Public Television:
If you visit the Bily Clocks Museum
If you’re even remotely in the vicinity of Spillville, a visit to the Bily Clocks Museum is a must. Whether you’re a clock aficionado or not, these handmade masterpieces are truly a sight to behold. The museum’s second floor also has a collection of artifacts from theworld-famous composer Antonin Dvorak. He spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville, which is an interesting and unexpected element of the town’s history.
Admission: $8 Adults
Hours: May – October / Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 4 pm / Sunday: Noon – 4 pm
Bily Clocks Museum, 323 S. Main Street in Spillville, Iowa