The holidays seemed somehow incomplete without the familiar sound of bells from Advent through Christmas and into the New Year. For six years the town of St. Albans inhabited a silence that longed to be filled with the melodious chimes of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church—an impossibility since pigeons had taken over the bell tower and damaged the electronic chime system. Then as 2019 drew to a close, parishioners played the role of Christmas angels, implementing necessary repairs and installing deterrents to keep the birds out. By year’s end the bells were once again heralding God’s love throughout the town.
The decision to invest resources into the repair of the chime system was due in part to its fascinating history. When the church building was constructed in 1861 it was outfitted with a single bell and manual ringer, typical of churches at that time. In 1924, the Bostwick family championed the installation of a multi-chime system enabling songs to be played by a bell choir. Thus, the single bell was traded at Meneely Bell Company in New York City for credit toward a 10-bell chime system as documented in photos 1 and 2.
The West Side Structural Company of Troy New York was hired to install a spiral staircase in the bell tower to reach the chime system as shown in photo 3. Each bell in the chime system was dedicated to a saint and to the memory of past church members as documented on the next page in photo 4.
In 1967, the people of St. Luke’s commissioned the Verdin Bell Company of Cincinnati, Ohio and Church Specialties of Poultney, Vermont to electrify the chime system (photo 5) so that the entire mechanism could be played by a keyboardist rather than a bell choir. Ten year ago, the system was again upgraded to read digital files from a computer system designed by Chime Master of Lancaster, Ohio. Unfortunately, when pigeons tore through the protective mesh over the bell tower openings (see photo 6) and damaged components inside the chime system the bells fell silent six years ago.
From August to September 2019, David Dupont and Rick Hamilton evicted pigeons and repaired the bell tower openings (photos 7 and 8). From October to December, Chris Kenyon, a veteran U. S. Navy electronics expert and long time St. Luke’s member, made electrical repairs. Now restored to their former glory, the bells at St. Luke’s are enjoyed by churchgoers and the wider community. In photo 9, Rick tours the bell tower with his daughter, Kate.
By now you may be wondering how the bells sound. Click for a video clip or audio recording of the chime system in action.
The Mountain would like to thank Rick Hamilton and St. Luke’s historian Jim Ballard for sharing these photos and historical notes.