|City Bell at new City Hall|
But, it's been decades since the bell, aka the City Bell, has been in service to the community. Now, that once prominent bell is relegated to a corner of the current City Hall municipal plaza.
It's a sight I pass constantly when walking on Main Street, and curious about its history, Because it's interesting to learn more about the city we now live in, I decided to learn more (a lot) about it and, of course, to share (because that's what I do).
The City Bell has quite a history dating to the mid-1800s when it was cast by a British foundry. The bell is inscribed as follows: Naylor, Vickers & Co. 1860, Sheffield, No. 1665, E.Riepe’s Pat.
The Sheffield, England, steel company of Naylor, Vickers & Co. commonly referred to as Naylor Vickers Co., was known worldwide for cutlery and other steel products. And, it has long been acknowledged for the cast steel bells it produced in the mid to late 19th century.
|Naylor Vickers Co advertisement (Internet source)|
Brothers-in-law, George Porter Naylor and Edward Vickers formed a partnership in 1853 in Sheffield as steel manufacturers. In 1855, they started producing cast steel bells. The British patent under which the steel bells were produced was taken out by a German contact, Ewald Riepe who found a way of casting steel and excluding air from the melt to avoid loss of carbon.
|Naylor Vickers Sheffield, England steel bell production (Internet source)|
An 1860 advertisement for Naylor Vickers Co. described the bells as “having a very pure, melodious sound, peculiar to cast steel; and as the elasticity of this material seems to produce more powerful vibrations, their sound penetrates to a greater distance.” While that may true, many English church goers, used to hearing the sound of bronze or copper bells, did not appreciate the sound and said it sounded like “rusty, tin cans.”
Steel bells had their place. The benefits of steel over bronze was its relative cheapness and comparative lightweight. A 48-inch diameter bronze bell weighed 2,200 pounds compared to a steel bell of the same proportions which would weigh 1,500 pounds and be much less costly.
For more then 40 years, Naylor Vickers Co. produced steel bells weighing between 35 pounds to 7 tons and shipped them to Africa, America, Asia, Australia, and Europe, among other places. Only 204, about 25 percent of the known production, were sent to the U.S.
Today, many of these bells are located in churches and public places throughout New England, including Holy Cross Catholic Cathedral, Boston, MA (1859) and Faneuil Hall, Boston MA, 72 inch diameter (1866). And, the one in downtown Nashua, NH, weighing 2,414 pounds and 55 inches in diameter.
The exporting of bells began soon after the company started producing the bells helped largely because the company had established a sales office in Boston, MA, before bells were being cast. There were also offices in New York City and Philadelphia, PA. At the time, these were the largest, most important cities in the country. In city directories of 1865 to 1875, the business was described as "iron, steel, and bells." The bells were exported to North America more as a sideline, and the term "bells" was dropped between 1875 and 1885, possibly because production was declining.
|Old City Hall, Nashua, NH |
(Nashua Experience book)
The City of Nashua purchased its bell in 1863 for $827.35 after Issac Eaton, a former chief of the city’s fire company, wrote in a 1861 report that the city needed a bell so firefighters could have a clear signal to alert them of fires. The bell was hung atop old City Hall in late September 1863, three years after being cast. It rang not only to warn of fires, but also commemorated holidays, other events, and the deaths of presidents and prominent locals.
The last time the City Bell was rung at old City Hall was after the announcement of President William McKinley’s assassination in September 1901.
In 1936, after decades of service, it was taken down when the tower housing it was deemed unstable to support its weight. It was thought that removing the bell would extend the building’s life span. That expectation was short-lived.
By 1939, the city had completed a new City Hall at another Main Street address. The old City Hall was demolished in 1939 along with an adjoining Municipal Records building. The gold eagle atop the original building was relocated to the new building, but the bell was not as fortunate.
When it was taken down, the bell was transported to a gravel pit until citizens complained about the location. It was moved to the city barn on E. Hollis Street. When it was learned that the city had received an offer from a concern that wanted to break it up to sell as old metal, another public outcry ensued and the bell remained in the barn.
In 1939, a new City Hall was built; the old one was demolished in 1940. While the gold eagle atop the original building was relocated to the new building, the City Bell was left behind. It was gifted to the Greek community for use in a local church. The only stipulation was that the church bear the expense of removal and set up at. It hung in the Church of the Annunciation on Ash Street for nearly 30 years until the mid-1970s, when the church merged with another Greek church and moved out. The bell once again was left behind; however, the Fellowship Baptist Church moved into the building, and it was once again used.
|City Hall bell relocated to 109 Main Street near site of old City Hall (Internet source)|
This bell didn't linger and in 2003 it was on the move again, this time to Court Street, near the present Nashua Public Library. It was outside on display until 2008 when it was transported to Nashua Foundries for restoration thanks to the efforts of a city intern and a hefty $40,000 contribution from a local philanthropist for its restoration.
After restoration, the bell was relocated (again). In 2008, it came full circle and was placed on Main Street at the site of the original City Hall (photo above).
|City Hall Plaza, 229 Main Street, Nashua, NH|
In 2015, the bell moved to its current location on the current (new) City Hall plaza. Based on its history, it won't come as a surprise to me, if the bell moves again at some future date.
After exposure to New England weather in the 13 years since its restoration, it's badly rusting. Perhaps another local philanthropist will step up with restoration $ sometime in the future.
|City Bell, Nashua, NH|
|Plaque at base of City Bell details its history and movement in Nashua, NH|