Project seeks to restore Trinity church bellsWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
The bells that rest in the tower of Trinity Episcopal Church have not rung out in song in about 20 years — but if one Toledo resident is successful, they will ring again this spring.
Wayne North, a local veterinarian, and The Old Trinity Foundation recently kicked off a donation campaign to raise the $50,000 needed to get the chimes repaired. The bells fell silent because of age, weather and rust, North said. The campaign is seeking contributions from individuals, organizations and businesses.
In 1941, Ellen Gardner, a member of a well-known local family, purchased the bells for the Downtown church in memory of her parents and siblings. Gardner’s home was at the corner of Madison Avenue and Superior Street, now the location of the Gardner Building.
That building was designed by Ellen’s brother, an architect. It was considered the first fire-proof building in Toledo, North said.
Ellen died in the 1960s after moving to the East Coast.
The Meneely Bell Foundry, started in 1826 in Troy, N.Y., produced the Gardner Memorial Bells. It closed in 1952, making the bells irreplaceable, North said.
There are 12 stationary bells and one swinging bell in Trinity’s tower. The bells are bronze, meaning they are 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin, and weigh 9.6 tons together.
The largest bell is 4,600 pounds; bells today aren’t made to weigh more than 1,000 pounds, North said.
North, formerly a member of the now closed St. Mark’s church, became interested in the bells when his congregation joined Trinity at the beginning of 2012.
“One of the things that fascinated me was the bells. But when I went in and talked to people and said, ‘What about the bells?’ you’d get sort of these blank looks, like, ‘Bells, what are you talking about, bells?’” North said.
North was able to go into the tower after he contacted a representative from a bell company to accompany him. He was shocked to see the bells along his dusty and steep ascent into the tower.
“When I got up in the tower, I was absolutely stunned by what was up there, just sitting there,” he said.
Smith’s Bell and Clock Company, a Mooresville, Ind., firm, will oversee the restoration. JJ Smith, the firm’s owner, said the project should take 8 to 12 weeks once started.
“They’ve got enough bells here to make a musical scale and we can take advantage of that through our bell controller and preprogram songs to play throughout the day,” Smith said.
Originally, the bells were played with a manual keyboard. In the ’70s, an electronic keyboard that stimulated direct current solenoids to ring the bells, was brought in. However, the solenoids are no longer made so the new system will need striking hammers and a digital electronic controller.
North said because the new system will be digitized, a musician could record a song ahead of time on a flash drive and schedule it to play later. There is also an option for someone to play a song live.
The revitalized bells will not just be for the religious community, but the whole Downtown, he said.
“We would start it off striking the hour, so people get acclimated to it. We would do noon and midnight rather than every hour until we see how everybody acclimates to that happening. Then we will do a scheduled concert,” North said.
“Let’s say when they have the fireworks on the Fourth of July, we play patriotic music,” he added. “It’s what we call restoring Toledo’s soundscape.”
The Rev. Elizabeth Hoster of Trinity said, “Part of our mission (at Trinity) is to be engaged in the life of the city. This is a new way, or rather a renewal of an old way to do that.”
One recording exists of the bells, North said. The recording, complete with street sounds of the period, was made from the corner of Adams and St. Clair streets in 1945. A 16-year-old girl was playing the bells at the time.
North also hopes to involve children of today with the bells. He said he could see them helping young, local musicians learn about playing bells.
He hopes to get the restoration funds raised by the end of January so the bells are playing by spring.
“It’s really, really great to know we have this historic set of bells here in Toledo. I think getting them back into playable condition is really important and I think it’ll be a really wonderful addition to the Downtown area,” North said.
Smith said the finish on the bells is good and will be left alone. He did say the swinging bell will take more effort to repair and a small crane will be needed to remove some of the materials around that bell for restoration.
The project can offer something to the whole community, Smith said.
“Music is the key to the spice of life. I think this is a project that not only the church can benefit from, but the whole community can get something from. What we’re doing is we’re creating [or] embarking on another area of history with these bells,” he said.
“There’s something about bells in the soundscape of the community that just says that you’re not alone; that says that you’re a part of something very big and you know at that moment that everyone’s hearing the same thing that you’re hearing.
“They’re for everyone. The rich, the poor, the person in the cubicle … the person who is living across the street.”
She also praised North’s commitment to the project.
“This is a classic example of people using their passions for a really good cause. Between his love for music, his love of things as a preservationist, his love of history — he’s carried the flag on this,” she said. “Any time a member of the community has a passion like that and leads the way, it’s wonderful.”
Contributions can be sent to The Old Trinity Foundation, Gardner Bell Fund, 316 Adams St., Toledo, 43604. Those who donate more than $500 qualify for a tower visit if they are physically able to make the climb.
For more information, visit www.trinitytoledo.org/bells.html.