Episcopalians acquire 1893 bronze bell

Published 1:14 pm Thursday, September 4, 2008

A bronze bell dating back to 1893 can be heard now on Sunday mornings before services at St. Francis Episcopal Church.

The antique bell, which alone weighs 780 pounds, was cast by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Co. of Troy, N.Y., as noted on its surface.

“This is the ’Tiffany’ of church bells from everything I’ve read about them,” said Don Perry, a member of the vestry at St. Francis, who researched different bells for the church before locating the Meneely at a company in Michigan.

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During the search, Perry became engulfed with the history of church bells, especially those from Meneely, which was started in 1826 by Andrew Meneely of West Troy, N.Y.

That company stemmed two or three different generations and name changes until it went out of business in the 1950s, he said.

Perry learned during his research that Andrew Meneely’s sons eventually ran the business. However, an apparent family feud occurred when Clinton Meneely returned home from fighting in the Civil War.

His two brothers wouldn’t let him in the business, so he crossed the river and started his own firm that made about 25,000 bells, including the replacement for the Liberty Bell that hangs to this day in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pa.

Meneely bells rang for President Franklin Roosevelt’s and President John Kennedy’s funerals and for President Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration.

“When we started pricing bells, we found out that new bells were more expensive than antiques,” Perry said, noting that a new bell, similar in size to the one at St. Francis would weigh only about 250 pounds.

“Technically, to be a church bell it has to be 28 inches in diameter. According to bell aficionados, anything less is a school house or chapel bell. We wanted a church bell. This one is 36 inches.”

The bell, mounted on a structure near the front door the church, can be heard for about 15 miles under ideal weather conditions, Perry said. Its sound continues to be heard for more than 30 seconds after the bell comes to a complete halt.

Perry and others were able to hear the bell first over the Web site of Brosamer’s Bells of Brooklyn, Mich., where it was purchased.

“We were undecided between two or three and we liked the way this bell sounded,” he said.

The bell was shipped to Philadelphia, Miss., where Perry said a crane was used to raise it up to its structure. The rope can be locked to prevent pranksters from ringing the bell.

“We still need to do a little more fine turning on the ringing apparatus,” he said.

Alice Rowe, also a member of the vestry at St. Francis, said the church was able to purchase the bell earlier than expected, thanks to numerous donations and memorials.

It was one of her pet projects.

“We just hope everybody in town listens for it and enjoys it as much as us,” she said.