Second Baptist Church Celebrates Bell Restoration

Celebrating the restoration of the original 1883 bell is the gathered congregation of the Second Baptist Church on Saturday, September 23rd. The bell, which was displaced after a fire in 2001 burned down the former church building, has been restored and placed in its new home in front of the church through the efforts of volunteers. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

After a 16-year absence, the 1883 bell of the Second Baptist Church was heard ringing once again during a ceremonious presentation on Saturday, September 23rd. The bell, which sat unused following a fire in 2001 that destroyed the church, has been restored to working order and placed prominently in front of the church by the efforts of a volunteer committee. 

During the outdoor presentation, which saw the congregation of the church gathered around the bell, Pastor Matthew S. Burden hailed the efforts of Roy Curtis and “Grampie” Bill Gibson in achieving the restoration. Curtis dedicated hundreds of hours toward research, constructing a historically accurate wheel for the bell, assembling the frame, sanding the bell itself, and assisting with building the platform on which the bell now rests. Gibson led the fundraising efforts that enabled the restoration to take place.

Two passages from scripture were read, each of them inviting worshipers to make a joyful noise in celebration of the Lord. “Praise the Lord with whatever you have, with any instrument available,” summarized Pastor Burden as those present prepared to hear the bell ring. The bell was equipped with a temporary hammer, but it will soon have a permanent brass hammer that will produce a robust sound when it is struck. The original clapper, which Curtis believes is pig iron, is still inside the bell but held immobilized. It has been flattened on one side from repeated usage over the past century.

The bell was rung four times, twice by Irene Moreside and twice by Carole Smith, in recognition of the number of buildings the church has utilized during its 175 years here in Calais.

The bell is dated 1883, and it was created by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company of Troy, New York. During the restoration, Curtis was able to acquire two “As” for the A-stand from which the bell is hung from a company in Vermont that were dated to the same era as the bell itself. He created the period-appropriate wooden wheel from white oak. 

Altogether, Curtis has been working on restoring the bell for two and a half years. “It feels good,” Curtis said of having the bell in its new home. “It’s been a long time getting it done.” 

Curtis moved to the area in 1975 and began a twenty-year career in heavy equipment maintenance at the Baileyville mill. When the mill closed temporarily, he took the opportunity to study woodworking and boatbuilding at the Boat School in Eastport. He joined the Baptist Church just over six years ago and became interested in the bell shortly after that. “I just hated to see it sitting there in the mud,” Curtis recalls, referring to how the bell was formerly resting behind the church on a pallet that had sunken into the ground. Curtis and Gibson and seven other church members began collaborating on how the situation could be remedied, and the restoration effort took off from there.

“It’s wonderful,” said Pastor Burden regarding having the bell restored. “It’s such a great piece of the church’s history. It’s fun to have it on display so the town can appreciate it, too.” Burden expressed again how it was the volunteers of the church that were integral in the process. “A lot of work has gone into it. Mostly it’s a real sense of satisfaction for all the work the bell committee put into it.”

The bell’s presentation was part of a weekend-long series of events commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Second Baptist Church. As part of the celebration, Pastor Burden has released a self-published history of the church that can be obtained by visiting the church itself.