Local Group Works to Restore Historic Bell

By Lura Jackson

Bill Gibson stands behind the Baptist Church Bell, constructed in 1883 by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company of Troy, NY. The 1900-pound bell hasn't rung since fire destroyed the Baptist Church in 2001, though a group of community members is now working to restore it. (Photo by Lura Jackson).

The sound of ringing church bells holds a special enchantment in most towns, drawing the attention of residents throughout the streets as they pause to hear the melody or count the number of strikes. In Calais, the sounds of various bells have echoed throughout the neighborhoods for generations, alerting the community to everything from fires to weddings. One such bell is that of the Baptist Church, which fell silent in 2001 after a fire destroyed the building. A local group of community members is now working to restore the bell to functioning order in a new location in front of the church. 

The effort is being spearheaded by Bill Gibson, who has a longstanding personal connection with the bell and the church. “When I was a kid I rang that bell. Each time service got out someone would ring the bell and I remember getting to do it.” 

The 1900 pound bell has been part of the church since the building was constructed in 1884. Made from bronze, the bell was specially ordered for the church from the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Foundry in Troy, New York in 1883. Each Sunday, the ringing of the bell provided a memorable end to services, a sound that was sorely missed by church and community members alike after the fire. A new church was completed in 2004, and bit by bit, pieces of the old church have been restored within it (including some of the stained glass murals). “The only thing missing from the new church building is the bell,” Gibson said.

The effort to restore the bell began when two new church members (Leslie “Hifi” Lyons and Roy Curtis) approached Gibson and asked him about the bell, which had been sinking slowly into the mud in the back of the church. With the help of Nick DelMonaco, the group moved the bell to Gibson's home where it could sit in a frame off the ground. Realizing that the bell would need a new wooden wheel constructed to enable it to ring, Curtis purchased the necessary wood and set about researching how to design and build it. Since then he has dedicated significant time and energy to the wheel's creation.

Initially, the group raised funds from a collection jar at church, though the cost of the project led them to brainstorm other ideas. After someone suggested a spaghetti feed as a fundraiser, Gibson organized a donation-based spaghetti dinner where community members contributed what they could in exchange for enjoying a homecooked meal. The dinner (held on October 17th) was a big success with 165 meals served. “People gave very generously,” Gibson said. “This was the first big step in the raising of the bell.” Gibson plans on organizing additional spaghetti dinners in the near future to continue raising funds for the restoration of the bell.

When it's complete, the bell will sit in front of the church on a solid base, with lights to illuminate it and an electronic ringer to enable children to once again share in the experience of ringing the bell after service. The area will need to be landscaped with retaining walls put it, and Gibson is realistic about the funds needed for the task. “It's a big project—it will take time and money. But people are great in our community,” he says with a smile. “Eventually our dream to raise the bell again will be fulfilled.”

To contribute to the project, or to find out more, visit Bill Gibson at Grampie Bill's Place in the IGA parking lot.