By Angela Shepherd
The bell and the assembly which it has been perched on for more than a century under the steeple of Greenfield’s First Presbyterian Church will be removed Saturday.
Since the church opened 112 years ago the bell, housed about seven stories off the ground, likely pealed when calling a congregation to worship, in announcing a new marriage, and during other occasions.
But the bell hasn’t sounded for years, having been replaced with an electric system, and the floor the estimated 4,000-pound bell and cradle assembly rests on is becoming increasingly deteriorated. So, on Saturday around 8 a.m., a large crane will lower the bell, which was cast by the C.S. Bell Company of Hillsboro, and its assembly from the steeple, said building and grounds elder John Mitchell.
The First Presbyterian Church of Greenfield has roots that extend more than two centuries into the past, according to the church’s website. While the church was officially organized in 1820, it was another 72 years before the church “was granted letters of incorporation by the state.” The current location on the corner of Fifth and Jefferson streets became the church’s home more than 112 years ago. On April 3, 1903 the building, made of native stone, was first opened “for a recital on the grand pipe organ,” reads a historical entry on the website written by Ione Priest in 1999.
The inside of the steeple has always been open to the elements. While the flooring the bell and its cradle have sat on for more than a century was tarred to protect it, the years have left their mark and the floor is no longer able to safely support the bell structure, though the bell and its cradle remain in good shape, Mitchell said.
Once the bell is removed, the floor will be restored and the drainage system redesigned, he said.
Mitchell said church members have been planning the removal for a while, and a final plan has been submitted to and discussed with Greenfield Public Service Director Brian Smith and also with the Greenfield Police Department, which will be directing traffic around the large crane that will block off the westbound half of Jefferson Street while the bell is being removed.
He said Burgess Millwright, a company out of Leesburg, will remove the bell. And while Mitchell said the lift was “fairly straightforward,” he said the process of having to “thread” the boom through the south steeple window will be “delicate” work.
He said the church approved the funds for the removal of the bell in a meeting Sunday.
Millwright, Mitchell said, after estimating the bell’s weight and taking measurements, has determined that the best route to remove the bell and its cradle assembly is through the steeple. It is anticipated the whole affair will likely take around three hours, though Mitchell said there is a four-hour window for Saturday’s work.
Preliminary work, which will include the removal of decorative metal framing on the south steeple window, will be done on Friday, Mitchell said.
Eventually, Mitchell said, the church plans to pour a concrete pad in between the church and the manse and install the bell on its cradle assembly there. While a locking mechanism will be installed on the bell, Mitchell said it would be rung on special occasions. Though, as renovation of the manse is still going on, until that is complete the bell will be stored in the garage behind the building.
“The bell will never be rang again as it was intended,” Mitchell said, but the plan is that it will ring again and be displayed, serving as a testament not only to the church’s history, but to local history, too.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.