“When I was your age, I walked to school everyday. And it was two miles away!” – pretty much any grandparent, spoken to pretty much anyone younger
We all have heard our elders tell the tale of how much harder they had it, way back when. And whether our granddad said it or not, we know that the long walk to school in the rain and snow, was uphill, both ways!
Recently, I was reading through the hand-written and detailed minutes from the board meetings of our corner church. These minutes were recorded in the 1920s, and I was struck by how resourceful and gritty those folks were back then.
The first planning meeting of local residents in Colonial Manor, who gathered to discuss their desire for a church, happened in March of 1922. The start of construction happened on October 21st of that same year, only six months later, and involved close to 70 volunteers from the neighborhood.
In between those dates, in just six short months, the eager neighbors had to petition the Methodist Episcopal Church for membership, had to obtain a suitable and free (yes, I said free!) piece of property, and had to hold church services in neighborhood homes to build interest in the community. They had to recruit extensive financial donations, plus, they had to design and plan a church! They essentially had to do all the tasks that a big mega-building firm does nowadays, usually over several years.
But the church building was not built by general contractors over several years. It was built by the members of a small neighborhood, and in a fraction of the time. The written minutes recounted that after digging the church basement with a team of horses (I cannot imagine what that means), the dedicated folks managed to get a significant amount of the building structure competed in only one day.
I thought of all those old granddads out there, accused of telling tall tales. Perhaps there is more truth to their seemingly inflated stories than we know.
In 1926, according to those same written church minutes, the church went on a quest for a bell to complete its bell tower. They formed a committee and made a detailed plan and time line. After all, the bell tower had been empty since the church’s construction four years earlier!
But tower bells were expensive, or so I imagined. Because, strangely, those usually detailed and specific notes are vague about the acquisition of the bell. The minutes outline the desire for a bell and the beginnings of a plan, and then … radio silence. The bell is never mentioned again.
But yet, there is a bell in the bell tower, and it looks pretty darn old. So what’s the story of the bell?
My son, curious, opted to climb up in the tower and see it for himself. While up there, he realigned the pull rope and replaced a pulley, so that the bell can now be rung.
The name of the city of Troy, NY is embossed on the bell, and from the internet, we learned that Troy had two busy foundries in the ’20s that made most of the country’s church bells at the time. Joe asked several bell experts in Troy to look at pictures and videos of our bell and they all agreed that the bell’s cradle had been jury-rigged and that our bell was not made for a church tower at all.
Word-of-mouth lore tells two conflicting stories of the origin of the bell. One version comes from an elderly gentleman who says that his elders said that the bell came from a ferry ship on the nearby Delaware River.
But another gentleman, now 94 years old, tells a different tale. That fellow’s own father was the church secretary, and it was his hand that would have written those puzzling minutes. He also happened to be an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad. And that church secretary told his children that the bell came from the locomotive engine of a Pennsylvania Railroad train.
To this day, we don’t know the story of the bell. But there is one thing we know.
In early 1922, the church on the corner was just a daydream in the minds of a few gritty men and women. But daydreams became reality when people were motivated and ready to work hard and to improvise.
Desire and grit built a church. And desire and grit acquired a bell.
So take a look at the bell, or better yet, come visit and ask them to ring it for you. What do you think?
- Does that bell look and sound like a passing ferry boat on the Delaware?
- Does is look and sound more like a Pennsylvania Railroad train coming round the bend?
- Or does it look and sound like the dedication and grit of a group of incredibly resourceful people?
Because tall tales aside, I am sure the true story of the bell was inspiring when those neighbors brought that bell from somewhere, to the little corner church.
And it was probably uphill – both ways!
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