FARMINGTON — Betsy Riley gasped as a bronze bell cast more than a century ago swung from a crane Thursday morning at Old South Congregational Church in Farmington.

The 71-year-old from Wilton had heard its ring countless times before, but her first up-close glimpse of the bell proved almost overwhelming, as it descended from its perch in the steeple high above Main Street to be shipped to Ohio for repairs.

“You don’t know how spectacular it is until you see it like this,” she said, staring skyward at the swaying bell.

Riley was among a handful of fellow church members snapping photos and presiding over the 8:30 a.m. removal of their precious church bell, which has remained silent for about a year because some of its aging parts are breaking down.

Restoring the bell is the latest project in a series of upgrades at the church, built in 1887 after a historic fire the previous year had ravaged the town, including the original Old South Church.

Congregation members have raised funds and relied on donations to maintain the aging church, with everything from stained-glass window repairs to a kitchen renovation preceding the church bell repair, according to Pat Durham, a longtime member.


“We’ve really missed hearing the bell calling us into worship in the morning,” said Durham, 72.

Her husband, Ed Davis, remembers lengthy discussions about what to do as the bell’s original pieces and wooden supports started breaking down several years ago, eventually making it unsafe to ring.

“We had a choice of putting in an electric clacker, and we voted against that in favor of restoring the original pieces,” he said.

Although the modern, electric system was cheaper, church members overwhelmingly picked the restoration, which required shipping the bell to Chime Master Systems in Lancaster, Ohio.

The tone would be different and the aesthetic beauty just wouldn’t be the same, said Davis, 75, a Farmington native and member of the church for more 40 years.

“We just wanted to keep it as original as possible,” he said.


Also, the steeple will get repaired by Mid-Maine Restoration while the bell is gone, according to Davis, a former trustee of the church.

The Boothbay company specializes in church restorations and is building the church a new stanchion, a support system for the bell.

The bell should be back before the winter and ringing once again for services and special events, according to church officials.

Durham and Davis call the restoration work by the congregation a great accomplishment. The couple has been at the church for pretty much every project in recent years, with his wife taking photos for posterity, Davis joked.

Durham can recall watching each pane of some of the stained-glass windows being painstakingly removed and restored. She pointed to a corner of The Good Shepherd window where a small stream can be seen in the background, a feature she didn’t notice before the renovation.

“Once it was clean and refurbished, you could see the water,” Durham said, looking at the light shining through the colorful glass.

“We love this church, and it’s a work in progress, but we all pitch in on (it),” she said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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