Rediscovering the UCC Steeple Bell – Part 1
(The Worship Planning Team at work!)
“Let’s ring in the Easter worship service! It’s been a very long time since we’ve heard the steeple bell ring.”
“Wouldn’t it be great to get a video of it ringing for the people watching the livestream service!”
“Has anyone still alive in our congregation ever seen the steeple bell?”
“The kids used to ring it on Sunday mornings, but that was a while back, and you don’t actually go up into the steeple.”
“I’ve never seen it and the people sitting in the pews can barely hear it even if it is rung.”
“Let’s plan a field trip to the steeple next week. Maybe we can get a video then. It’s supposed to be warm that day.”
Rediscovering the UCC Steeple Bell – Part 2
We climbed the stairs from the balcony to the attic over the sanctuary ceiling.
The porthole to the steeple floor was opened and Bob was the first to climb up. (Does anyone care that there were died bat droppings all over the floor? I don’t know. No spiders. That was a bonus!)
The steeple structure was incredible. Just thinking about the manual labor involved to hand hew the beams and design the double support structure gave us a huge appreciation for the task. The steeple had to support a brass bell weighing over 1200 lbs!
We found writing on the wall. This will require some research. Obviously something happened in 1946. By the size and color of the writing, perhaps a good guess is that the steeple got painted.
It was time to ascend into the bell tower! Don’t worry. The dangling leg is just Bob’s – nothing scary.
From the ladder we finally set our eyes on the bell, and it was a magnificent sight!
There it is! Our church bell is aging beautifully for being 180 years old.
When the rope in the attic is pulled to ring it, the clapper in the center remains stationary. The outer bell is rocked from side to side via a circular wooden wheel. You can see a small white spot on the inside of the bell where it hits the clapper. There is one on the opposite side as well.
This is a view of the wooden wheel and how the bell is attached to a fixture.
The floor of the tower is designed to accommodate the weight of the bell. It is divided into four faces, which rise together into a point in the center under the bell.
The bell manufacturer’s name is Holbrook East. Information in our church records states that we purchased the bell from George H. Holbrook of East Medway, Massachusetts for $375, and that the bell was cast in 1841. After a little research on the company, we found that the original owner, George H. Holbrook, apprenticed under Paul Revere! There are some ups and downs with the business, but it was eventually reborn with the owner’s son, George H. Holbrook. We believe it was the son who was the overseer of the cast of our bell. As a musician he improved the musical tone of the bells.
There is a Holbrook Bells National Registry. Other bells in our area are in All Saint’s Episcopal just down the street, St. James’ Episcopal and the United Church of Christ in Keene and this mystery. It states in 1848 a bell was installed at the Union Congregational Church in Greenfield, NH. The date conflicts with our church information and our resident Greenfielder, Carele, who says the bell in the Greenfield Meetinghouse is a clock tower bell. It may be that our bell is not yet on the national registry and could be if we want to sort this out!
We discovered a tolling arm in the bell framework. There is a rope in the balcony attached to the arm to ring the bell at singular dings at whatever timing interval desired. The arm looks like a sledge hammer with a wooden hammer head. You can see the upper end of a large beam sticking up under the bell. At the lower left edge of this beam is the head of the hammer and the handle extends all the way to the left. The handle has a curve on the end and operates similar to hand pumping water from an old well.
Bob is standing in the background, getting ready to video the ringing of the bell and waiting for me to finish taking the picture and plug my ears! It was interesting to hear the difference between just tolling the bell and ringing the bell. Tolling was very tolerable. Ringing was deafening and included the heavy motion and swooshing of the bell wheel.
Here are some other views from the bell tower.
In the ceiling is an access panel to the roof and spires. More writing on the wall! Someone with the initials H.M. was there in 1926.
If you don’t get sick looking down, here is a view from the tower, through the steeple, into the ladder hole on the upper left to the attic. Two sets of ladders in an upside-down view.
Descending into the steeple, this is a view of the long roof line of the church.
Back down in the attic there is a wooden floor which extends across the entire length of the sanctuary. The only light comes from the windows on the street side. It is a haven of tired and broken pews from the past, small closets with light fixtures and things with little use for today.
We peeked through two very large openeings at the other end. We saw a ceiling expanse below which is the current choir room, and the wall of the Sunday School addition. We were curious about the two brick pillars on either side of the sheetrock panel seen here and also, where the triangular sense of light is coming from. Perhaps it is light from windows in the Sunday School addition attic.
Martha found an appropriate thought for this relic. The rock that became the cornerstone of the church. We are not sure why this was deemed special enough to save, but there it is. It’s probably been there for years and may be there for years to come – just because no one knows why.
Carele is checking out an antique, cloth-lined offering basket.
Here is a decorative wall panel.
An antique candle holder which Martha is holding. There are lots of these in a closet. At one time they were attached to the ends of the pews on Christmas Eve to light the sanctuary.
There is also a wall panel of signatures of past church sextons, dating back to the 1800s.
Finally, an interesting pew pose with shadow on the wall.
What a great field trip learning and sharing more about our church history!
Mary Ann Fleming, March 2021
Rediscovering the UCC Steeple Bell – Part 3
There were some wonderful responses to my previous article about our church bell. One in particular, from Carl and Pattie Ingelstrom, provided an answer regarding the writing on the wall of the steeple.
“In 1946 Carl’s father, Ivar Olaf Ingelstrom, was a painting contractor in Peterborough and had a crew of several men working for him. One of his jobs in 1946 was to paint the exterior of the Congregational Church. Here are a couple photos of the job – you will note the lack of ‘OSHA’ oversight!
“One of the crew was Waine Lamni of West Peterborough and another was Ernest Brassart also from West Peterborough, ‘Waine’ & ‘ELB.’ Carl is not sure who ‘CEW’ might be.”
Thank you, Carl and Pattie! This is a wonderful addition to the story. It astounds me that you were able to find photos of the task! Great detective work!
(Note the painter on the tippy-top working on the spires!)
Mary Ann Fleming