Town centers need a ringing church bell

I drove by North Parish Congregational Church on Main Street in Sanford at the right time on a recent Sunday morning. For the first time in some time, I heard the bell ringing from the iconic church clock tower and bell tower.

It’s zonte, I thought. I lowered the window of my car slightly to better hear the doorbell. As parishioners streamed into the church, I thought the bell simply announced the start of service that Sunday morning.

Later I discovered that the bell announced every hour too. According to Becky Brown, the church office administrator, church administrators had agreed to have the clock and bell repaired and hired David W. Graf Tower Clock Repair to do the job. Parishioners Fred and Barbara Boyle contributed significantly to the restoration of the clock and chimes.

How long had it been since the bell had gone silent and the clock had stopped, doomed to be correct only twice a day? It is someone who guesses.

“It must have been at least a decade because I don’t remember hearing the bells,” Becky told me in an email.

I would go back even further, although I’m not sure how much. All I know is that I grew up on Church Street and at one point was saddened that its bell stopped ringing.

Not that the bell has been silent all these years. One Christmas Eve a few years ago, my nephew and I walked through my old neighborhood, because Mom still lives in the house where I grew up. When North Parish Church’s holiday service ended around 8:30 a.m., the bell began to ring throughout downtown. Immediately, I stopped short and listened. I felt an immediate whiff of nostalgia. I closed my eyes and savored it.

“I haven’t heard that bell for a long time,” I told my nephew. “It rang all the time when I was your age.”

Every hour, to the hour, to be exact. This is how my friends and I kept time when we were kids, living our childhoods on Shaw, Prescott and Kimball streets in the 70s and 80s. When the church bell rang five times in the aftermath noon, that’s when I knew it was time to go home for dinner.

Dana Peterson, a parishioner at the church, provided some history on the bell in a recent email.

According to Dana, the North Parish Church had the first church bell in Sanford. The parish installed a “small” bell in the church steeple in 1831, and it served several purposes: to call people to worship on Sundays, of course, but also to serve as an alarm in case of fire or fire. other important developments. Over time, this small bell proved too quiet and was replaced with a 900-pound bell.

“It was this bell that rang during the great fire of 1878,” Dana noted.

After years of silence, the bell of the North Parish Congregational Church on Main Street in Sanford, Maine, is ringing again throughout downtown.

The church burned down in this fire, by the way. A new north parish church was built and dedicated in late 1879, and the bell at the top weighed 1,500 pounds. The church clock was also installed at this time.

However, this 900-pound ringer can still live, Dana said.

“It is possible that this beloved bell was not completely silenced and is still in the DNA of the one that hangs there today,” Dana said. “There are anecdotal stories that the remains of the 900-pound bell were salvaged from the ashes and melted down to form part of the new 1,500-pound bell.”

The largest bell was donated by Mrs Stone, on the condition that the new north parish church be rebuilt without debt, which Dana said was the case.

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Dana said the need for a church bell and bell to warn of a fire ended when the first electric pull-cord alarm system was installed in Sanford in 1894. This system included 13 boxes signs in downtown Sanford.

“The remains of one of these sign boxes stood in front of the church until 2020 when it was removed during infrastructure replacement and the repaving of Main Street,” Dana said.

Credit goes to David Yuill for keeping the clock and bell ticking for so many years lately. According to Dana, Mr. Yuill maintained and repaired the clock to the best of his abilities and kept it running for as long as he did.

Name me among the grateful. I have a lot of memories from my childhood downtown, and most of them are pictures and anecdotes. As far as sounds from my childhood go, the North Parish Congregational Church bell is one of my favorites.

A town center needs a church bell. There is something about the ringing of a church bell that contributes significantly to the personality and character of a town centre. A strong and functional church bell brings people together. It connects us, because we all hear it at the same time, no matter what we are doing within earshot.

City officials, business owners and volunteers have worked hard for years to revitalize downtown Sanford. In terms of beautification, you can see the progress in the pockets: the clock in front of the town hall; the Mid-Town Mall staircase; Gateway Park, with its illuminated falls.

Thanks to those committed to the revitalization, these efforts will continue, and one day we can see how it all connects into one seamless, embellished whole. It takes time, perseverance and patience.

The restoration of the clock and bell of the North Parish Congregational Church appears to be another positive step towards this goal. It feels like part of the bigger picture. For a very long time, the stopped clock and silent church bell seemed like an example, if not a symbol, of how downtown Sanford is currently not as vibrant and active as we remember it. back then, when people seemed more outdoors, and mom-and-pop stores lined Main Street and shoppers filled them.

When we see some of the progress being made downtown and consider that $25 million in federal funds is for infrastructure improvements, the recently restored and ringing North Parish Bell and Clock has become a new symbol.

The one that Sanford time arrives.

Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and reporter for the York County Coast Star. He can be reached at[email protected].

Jerry B. Hatch