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Old church gets a new old bell

A bell is once again ringing in the belfry of the 1879 Presbyterian Church on California Street after a nearly 10-year absence.

The original bell, purchased by pioneer banker Cornelius Beekman in 1880, was moved to the church’s new home on Middle Street when services began there in 2006.

After searching for several years, the church was given a bell that had been used in a grammar school in Coos County by one of its own members.

“We started to wonder where we might find a bell about 2013,” said Joanne Wilcox, who heads a church team to maintain and preserve the old building, which the congregation has retained.

“We thought maybe an abandoned church in the Midwest might have one. We wrote to a foundation in Portland. We wrote to the Oregon Historical Society, but never did hear back,” said Wilcox.

Contact with Southern Oregon Historical Society led to its publication of a notice seeking a bell. Brian Boothey saw the appeal.

Boothey inherited the bell from an uncle who demolished an old school building for the Myrtle Point School District in 1972 and was allowed to salvage anything there for his work. Myrtle Point Grammar School was built in 1913 but closed in 1968 when it was declared a fire hazard.

“We got a release from the Myrtle Point School District,” said Wilcox. “After the release saying they didn’t have any claim on it, we applied to the city of Jacksonville for a permit.”

New seismic regulations needed to be met, which required calculations of loads. An architect donated those services, said Wilcox. A new metal frame to hold the bell was welded to meet requirements.

The church also had to submit evidence that the bell would not be seen from the outside like the previous bell, which was hidden behind louvers. The original bell is visible in the steeple of the new church.

“Because it was over at the coast, it had gotten rusted and pitted and needed refurbishing,” said Wilcox. “Bill Granger did that.”

The belfry is accessed from the foyer though a tower on the front of the church. Installation took place May 23 with three volunteers in the belfry to hoist up the 100-pound, 2-foot-tall bell. Dan Zahnow supervised the crew, which included Granger and Brian and Max Boothey.

A dedication of the bell was held June 28, during the quarterly Hymn Sing held at the historic site.

Lumen Dei Church, which rents the building for Sunday services, will be ringing the bell regularly, said Wilcox. The bell also will be rung for special events.

“It has a good ring,” said Wilcox. Birds had roosted in the belfry over the years, but workers cleaned the area.

“I think if the bell is rung occasionally maybe the birds won't be moving in,” said Wilcox.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.