Hidden Memphis: Downtown watchmaking school trained hundreds for post-war careers

Hidden Memphis series for The Commercial Appeal

March 13, 2011

During the early to mid-20th century in Downtown Memphis, as people bustled along on their way to shopping at Goldsmith’s Department Store, a movie at the Majestic Theatre on Main or lunch at Anderton’s, a group of students were hunched over fragile instruments, listening intently for the delicate movements of timepieces to tell them their problems.

For a brief period of time in Memphis, time was a growing concern. From 1940 until 1953, the Southern College of Watchmaking was a place where hundreds of people came from all over to learn the intricacies of and skills it takes to build and repair watches and clocks, before flooding back into the world as ambassadors from our city and of the time itself.

The building — a three-story brick edifice — is no longer there at 83 N. Second. The corner is now a blacktop parking lot hemmed in by the law offices of Burch Porter & Johnson in the old Tennessee Club to the south and the towering 100 N. Main building to the north. But in its time, said jeweler William McGary of Paducah, Ky., a 1949 graduate, “Court Square was our campus.”

Forrest L. Osborne, a Perry, Okla., native and the son of a doctor, founded the school at 776 Poplar near Manassas as a jewelry making and watch repair educational institution. A place where “crippled and other incurably injured persons” could learn a valuable and productive skill, according to a 1943 story in The Commercial Appeal … (read more)