Church hangs old bell in new belfry

NASHUA – Six members and one good friend of Pilgrim Congregational Church gathered in the church parking lot Friday morning to watch a 100-ton crane lift a solid steel bell into the air and hang it from a heavy beam over the entrance to the church.

“Now, we have a church,” declared Andy Pare, a friend of the church who had joined secretary Kathy Crouse, the Rev. Ed Koonz, minister of Christian education Mike Bone, building committee members Ron Carr and Mark Maris, and the longest standing member of the congregation, Bill Marshall, to celebrate the occasion.

It was also a special moment for Eclipse Construction of Bedford, the firm that designed and built the new addition to the church and took charge of lifting and securing the bell in the neat wooden tower where it is now situated.

The bell fits into a wooden cupola that sits on the roof over the front entrance supporting a 250-pound, solid steel I-beam to which the bell is attached. The cupola is made of laminate boards that will be protected with vinyl siding.

“This is my first time dropping a bell,” said Gene Pare, project superintendent. “It’s different.”

According to church history, the solid steel bell was cast in East Medford, Mass., in 1847, hung in the former church building on Temple Street until the 1954 hurricane ripped off the roof, and then sat in a contractor’s garage for the next 46 years.

Some church historians speculate the bell was made for the church when it was located on Pearl Street. Built in 1846, that building was home to the congregation until it combined with another congregation in 1879. In 1882, the church relocated to the Temple Street site, now Indian Head Plaza. It moved to a new home on Watson Street in 1956 – following a year of worship at the Charlotte Avenue School.

Four years ago, church members voted to build a bell house on the church property, take the bell out of storage, and ring in the millennium. The bell, rung by hand, remained in the bell house until June, when construction for an addition on the Watson Street property began. During the construction, the 157-year-old bell was left on the building site, protected by a tarp.

Friday morning, however, after the church family gathered in the parking lot, the tarp was removed. A crane operator working for Eclipse Construction hoisted the bell into a wooden box on the roof, securing it from the I-beam.

The entire process – the culmination of months of anticipation – took about five minutes.

“We now have an entrance to the church that welcomes the people,” Koonz said. “We hope this revitalizes the church and brings more people to the church.”

The old bell depends on new technology: An electronically driven metal clapper controlled by a push button in one of the church offices will strike the inside of the bell, producing sound that formerly relied on a pull rope and human hands.

But the technical changes have no bearing on the bell’s purpose. “We want to call people in the community, not just our members,” Koonz said.