Tradition restored to Nashua's downtown with City Bell
The old City Bell tolled deeply through the downtown Nashua on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since 1901, its large body reverberating as the cold steel glistened with rain.
Tuesday’s dedication ceremony marked the return of the 148-year-old bell to its former site in front of old City Hall, near 106 Main St. It was hung in that building in 1863, three years after being cast, but it was taken down in 1936 due to safety concerns. It has been in many local buildings since its removal, but Kathy Hersh, the city’s community development director, hopes the bell has found a permanent home.
“I think it’s very important because it’s part of our history,” Hersh said. “If you take a look at downtown, we’ve got many buildings that are old and that have been around for a long time. It’s part of the reason why the city of Nashua is the way it is, and this bell is part of that history. I think it’s terrific to restore it back to Main Street.”
The 2,414-1/2-pound bell, which is 55 inches in diameter, was initially used as an alarm to alert firefighters of fires as they broke out. It was also used to announce important holidays as well as the deaths of prominent citizens and presidents, Hersh said. More recently, it has been used in various churches during wedding and funeral services.
The project to return the bell to its original location was spearheaded by an intern with the city. Renee Reder, a Nashua native and junior architecture major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began researching the bell’s history and the restoration process two years ago. The bell had been outside 14 Court St. since 2003, and over the years, the multiple layers of paint coating the exterior had rusted.
Reder contracted with Nashua Foundries to strip the paint and protect the steel beneath. She also designed the display from which the bell now hangs, as well as contracting with the companies required to transport the bell and create the landscaped podium.
“It really is a bell that encapsulates a lot of the history of Nashua,” said Reder, who was a valedictorian at Nashua High School South. “To me, it seemed like a great project just to get done for the city of Nashua to enjoy. To me, that’s what made me really jump on it because I know what this bell means to the city. Since 1863, this has been a very important bell.”
The project, which Hersh estimated cost between $40,000 and $50,000, was funded mainly through a $40,000 donation from James Stellos, of Stellos Electrical Contractors.
“If it were not for Mr. Stellos supporting this project, we would not have pulled it off,” Hersh said.
Stellos, a Nashua resident, is a member of the St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church, one of the homes the City Bell had over the years. He said he was drawn to the project because of the bell’s rich history and its importance to Greek families in the community during its tenure as a church bell.
“It’s mostly for the old Greek people – our fathers, our grandfathers, our grandmothers – that came to this country as immigrants,” said Stellos, referring to why he got involved with the restoration. “The bell was always in the building. It was like an alarm clock, if you want to call it that.
“It’s a little something to remember them by.”
Ringing in history
The history of the City Bell dates back to the 1800s. Here is a timeline of its life:
1860: Naylor Vickers and Co., a company based out of Sheffield, England, cast the bell.
1863:The bell was purchased by the city of Nashua for $827.35 because Isaac Eaton, a former chief of Nashua’s fire company, wrote in his 1861 annual report the city needed a bell so the firefighters could have a clear signal to alert them of fires.
The bell was first hung in old City Hall on Sept. 24, 1863. It was used to announce holidays and deaths of presidents and prominent locals.
1901: The last time the City Bell was rung at old City Hall, according to an article published in 1939, occurred after the announcement of President William McKinley’s assassination Sept. 14, 1901.
1936: The City Bell was taken down because the tower atop old City Hall was deemed unable to support the bell. It was transported to a storage barn on East Hollis Street, where it sat unused.
1939: A new City Hall was built. The gold eagle atop the original building was moved to the new location, but the City Bell was not. The bell was given as a gift to the Greek community, and it was hung in Church of the Annunciation, a Greek Orthodox church on Ash Street.
1940: Old City Hall was demolished.
Mid-1970s:The Church of the Annunciation merged with St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and formed the St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church. The church moved to a new building on West Hollis Street, near the Nashua Police Department and the City Bell was left behind in the building. The Fellowship Baptist Church moved into the building and began using the bell.
2003: In October 2003, the City Bell was transported to 14 Court St., where it stood outside on display until Renee Reder, the intern spearheading the project, had it transported to Nashua Foundries for restoration.
TUESDAY: The newly-restored City Bell was dedicated at its new home near 106 Main St.