It was probably sometime in my first year at Zion that I was shown the old church bell that was laying on its side in the garage. That was probably about the same time that we were planning the “Raise the Roof” capital campaign and I remember thinking, when we get to significant signage out front, we ought to include that old bell.
Also about that same time, Norma Roden took on the role of being the Church’s historian. Sadly, in the midst of the Church’s troubles, Zion had missed the 200th anniversary of the Church’s founding in 1810, and it was Norma’s vision that we do as much as we could to honor our long history. The Memorial Cabinet that is now in the Cloister was procured and in it can be found a rotating collection of artifacts from our history. A little history about that old bell seems appropriate here. The bell was first installed in in the old Cornersburg church on the southwest corner of Tippecanoe and Canfield Roads in September of 1915, and was rung for the first time on September 26, 1915. The bell was manufactured by the C. S. Bell Company of Hillsboro, Ohio. It’s just a coincidence that the company founder’s name was Charles Stapleton Bell and they made bells. It remained in service until that property was sold and the Church moved to the northeast corner of Cornersburg, probably in early 1957. Clearly leadership at that time felt strongly enough about the bell that they wanted to salvage it out of the old church. It must have been quite an effort to get the bell out of the belfry because the bell bowl alone weighs 487 pounds.
The bell’s bowl alone was eventually given a place of honor on a brick pedestal in the grassy courtyard between the old part (west wing) and the sanctuary to the east what is now Crossroads, about where the Crossroads Kitchenette is now. A picture from the groundbreaking in 1999 shows it complete with brass plaque. Sadly that plaque seems to be lost to history.
Of course, the bell had to be removed for the construction of Crossroads in 1999 and presumably it was moved to the garage at that time. By the time I found it and applied myself to the task of restoring it, all that could be found was the bowl and yoke. The other parts including the clapper, standards, and wheel were nowhere to be found.
Michelle Martin, Zion’s Office Administrator and I spent many hours getting an education on all things church bell. We consulted several companies who were willing to restore the bell for us, but estimates ran as high as more than $7000 and as little as $3000, just for the bell. I made the decision that that was not good stewardship. Then we applied ourselves to sourcing the parts ourselves. Turns out there are people out there who buy and sell bells and parts. We were finally able to source all the parts we needed ourselves for $1210 from Lower Bells in Loudon Tennessee.
Once we had all the parts Gary Romano, Thomas Smith and I sub-assembled the bell to make sure we had everything we needed and that it all went together and worked. Assured that we did, we needed to get it to A Plus Powder Coaters in Columbiana for bead blasting and powder coating. To do that, we had to get the bowl on Gary’s truck. We thought of many possible methods but on that day, we placed it on a dolly and Thomas pushed it down Canfield Road to the corner Shell station where Gary, the owner, allowed us to use his engine hoist to get the bell onto Gary Romano’s truck.
Gary and I made the short drive with the bell to Columbiana and about three weeks and $1300 later it was ready. Of course getting the bell back and installed was an even more complicated problem.
The platform that the bell is mounted on was built by Ryan Hone Masonry and was designed to look like the bases of the arches holding up the front portico. It cost $2900. He is the same mason who built the bases for our new signs. Mounting the bell was part of the deal and he also offered to pick the finished parts up for us. Finally, on Thursday, August 17 it all came together. And yet, the bell has not been rung. You have my word on that.
The bell will be rung for the first time since January 1957, on September 24, 2017, 60 years since it was last rung and two days shy of 102 years after it was rung for the first time. And it will be rung for the first time by Sarah Matkoskey because the bell restoration was paid for by her and her family and others in memory of her late husband, Charles. The platform was paid for by memorial funds given by Anna Mae and Roy Wiff Jr. in memory of Roy Wiff and memorial funds given in memory John Bokesch.
A brass plaque with a brief history of the bell will be acquired and mounted soon. Now that the bell has been restored and given a place of honor, Norma would like to see a path out and around the platform and a light shining down on it. So you can anticipate that in our future.
Now some may say that that was a lot of time and money spent reviving and old part of our history. To that I would say, yes, and it is fitting. Zion is a significant church in the Valley’s history. Zion has been around for 207 years and that bell called Christians to worship for about 40 years before being retired. Though it is technically still retired, (See the article under Worship Table entitled Worship Matters for how we will use the bell in the future.)it is a dear artifact of Zion’s staying power – and by Zion, I mean all the saints and sinners who have made this great church what it remains to be today and a testimony to God’s faithfulness to us.
All Glory, Laud, and Honor Refrain All glory, laud, and honor to you, redeemer, king, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.