Homecoming: After refurbishment, historic bell returns to church’s tower in downtown Lawrence

photo by: Lauren Fox

This bell, originally made in 1865, was returned to the top of the bell tower at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont Street, on July 13 after being sent to Cincinnati to be repaired in September of 2019.

The deep resonances of a 1,500 pound bell rang out from the tower of First United Methodist Church on Monday morning for the first time in ten months.

From the top of the tower, facilities manager Marc Ridenour gave a thumbs up to the onlookers below: three women who cheered and curious passersby who had stopped to stare.

“We were here to hear the first ring!” one of the women said excitedly.

The bell was originally constructed in 1865 in Troy, N.Y., and has since been a staple of the historic Lawrence church. It originally rested in the church’s former location on Massachusetts Street, where the Masonic Temple building is now located. In 1890, the bell was moved — Ridenour said he has no idea how — from that location to the church’s current location, at 946 Vermont St.

But, in recent years, the bell had fallen into disrepair.

“It wasn’t in complete danger of falling apart, but it was pretty close,” Ridenour said.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Workers place a cross at the top of the bell tower of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont Street, on the morning of July 13. The newly refurbished 1,500 pound bell is seen below.

With a $29,000 grant from the Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council Natural and Cultural Grant Program, the church had the money to send the bell to Cincinnati to be repaired and refurbished, and about nine months ago, it arrived back to Lawrence via a FedEx truck.

“I’m not kidding you. It showed up on a FedEx truck,” Ridenour said, chuckling. He recalled telling the deliverer that he must “haul everything but the kitchen sink,” and the man responded, “‘You know what, I’ve hauled a lot of kitchen sinks, but I’ve never hauled a bell,'” Ridenour said.

Since October, the bell has been sitting in the entryway to the church, waiting to be replaced in the tower.

Carladyne Conyers arrived at 9 a.m. Monday morning to see the bell be returned to its natural resting place. She had come ten months ago to watch it be taken down.

“It was really exciting to watch them — all the manpower it takes to get the bell anchored and get it down here,” she said. “So today it was like, ‘Okay, we need to come watch it.'”

photo by: Lauren Fox

A crane lifted the newly-refurbished 1,500 pound bell back into the tower of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont Street, on the morning of July 13.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and anticipated snowstorms in the winter, of which only some panned out, the bell’s homecoming was delayed until Monday.

It was either Monday or wait until January to get it up, Ridenour said. A technician came from Kentucky to help lift the bell — via crane — back into the tower.

Ridenour has been the facilities manager for the church for the past seven years, and plans to work for another nine in order to retire at 70. His goal is to have the church fully refurbished by then. So far, refurbishments include the stone work on the church’s two towers, the bell and the slate roof, among other items. Prior to taking his position at the church, Ridenour started Natural Breeze Remodeling, which he managed for 29 years. The company still exists today.

photo by: Debra Rukes

First United Methodist Church facilities manager Marc Ridenour is pictured on July 13.

From the top of the tower, Ridenour explained the two types of ways the A flat bell can ring. If you swing it, it does its “happy ring,” he said. But if you toll the bell — a feature of the bell that hadn’t worked for the last 60 or so years, Ridenour said — it gives a somber effect.

As Ridenour swung and tolled, the floor of the tower shook with the motion of the heavy and historic bell.

photo by: Lauren Fox

A view of the underside of the refurbished 1865 bell located at the top of the bell tower at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont Street.

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