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Almost lost and forgotten in the dusty pages of time is the little known fact that the bell that hangs in the steeple of the Bryant Pond Baptist Church in Bryant Pond Maine is, in my opinion, without doubt, the most famous bell in lighthouse history. In fact, with perhaps the exception of the Liberty Bell, it could easily be stated by some that it is one of the most historically significant bells in the United States.
Every Sunday morning for the past ten years, 80-year-old bell ringer, Ken Hoyt, pulls on the heavy rope to ring the historic bell that hangs high above him in the belfry of the Bryant Pond Baptist Church. Mr. Hoyt has followed in the footsteps of other bell ringers who have been ringing this bell at the church since it was installed there105 years ago in 1906.
To the many who hear its tune, it probably sounds like any of the thousands of other church bells that ring all across the world to summon people to Sunday morning worship. But there is something very special about this bell. At 816 pounds, it is far from being the heaviest church bell in this county and is certainly no comparison to the 15-ton bell at St. Francis de Sales Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s also not the oldest church bell in the United States; that distinction goes to Boston’s Old North Church with a bell that dates back to around 1775. Also, its bell doesn’t hang from the highest steeple; that record goes to the Riverside Church in New York City that can seat 2,100 people for its Sunday service. Instead, the bell at the Bryant Pond Baptist Church hangs from a steeple that is characteristic of many small churches across the land. But, this bell is unique to the annals of history.
This church bell is the original fog bell from the infamous 1850 Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse that was toppled in a colossal storm in April of 1851, claiming the lives of its two assistant keepers. First-hand accounts of the time stated that the people on shore heard the fog bell tolling feverishly from the lighthouse. Some thought that it was keepers signaling for help, but others, who felt they were “in the know,” believed it was caused by the violent shaking of the tower, especially in those last minutes as the tower swayed from one side to another before it toppled over into the raging sea.
But how did this fog bell end up Maine? Although old records of the transaction have remained elusive, historical society records indicate that the bell was purchased at a salvage auction by Dwight T. Faulkner a couple of years after the lighthouse collapsed. Faulkner then had the 650 pound bell transported to Maine. Eventually, in 1861, the bell was installed by his son, Francis T. Faulkner, in the tower of his business, the Turner Woolen Mill. The bell was probably rung as a signal to the workers when it was time to break for lunch, when to return to work, and when one work shift ended and when another one started.
The bell of the old Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse hung in the tower at Turner Woolen Mill where its tones were heard not only by the workers at the mill, but by the entire surrounding community. However, that all changed on a fateful Sunday morning on September 3, 1905 when tragedy struck the bell for the second time in its 54 year existence.
It is known that Francis T. Faulkner, the owner of the mill, and another man, only identified as a Mr. Bray, were in the building at the time when a fire of unknown origin started. It is known that both Faulkner and Bray grabbed fire extinguishers and approached the fire from different directions. However, within minutes the fire was totally out of control. Bray got out, but Faulkner went back to his office, perhaps to save some company documents or close the doors of the company safe. But in doing so, Faulkner apparently became trapped by the fast moving fire. One of the men who showed up to help fight the fire said he saw Faulkner through one of the windows, but then lost sight of him as flames and smoke devoured the structure. Faulkner was never seen alive again.
As the support timbers from the bell tower gave way, the men fighting the fire surely must have heard the lighthouse bell clanging its tragic toll as it fell, crashing down to the surface below. Perhaps it was the same clanging sound that it had made years earlier at the Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse just moments before the tower toppled into the sea.
The heat from the blazing inferno was so intense that it melted most of the old bell into a large chuck of molten metal. The only remains of Mr. Faulkner to be found were a few bones. Miraculously, Faulkner’s valuable Swiss watch, one of only two ever made before the manufacturer died, survived the fire.
Francis T. Faulkner had been a popular and respected man, and many of the men in town had worked for him and his family for many years. His funeral was the largest in the area’s history. Among the many attendees were over 400 Masons and members of other fraternal orders, as well as a number of dignitaries, some who had travelled great distances.
Faulkner left behind one child, Mrs. Anna Mont Chase, who was determined to keep her father’s memory alive forever. After a few family members of the Faulkner family were given small pieces of the bell, Mrs. Chase had what was left of the heavily damaged bell recast and donated it to the Bryant Pond Baptist Church where she was a member.
The original Minot’s Lighthouse fog bell which hung at the Turner Woolen Mill was reported to weigh 650 pounds. After the fire only 285 pounds of the bell were left. Because there were so many fires in those days, the recasting of bells was a common occurrence. After recasting, the bell now weighed 816 pounds, which is over 150 pounds more than it originally weighed. With its mountings, the total weight is now 1,250 pounds in the belfry of the church. On April 4, 1906, volunteers raised the bell and installed it in place atop the church. At a church meeting held a few days later, on April 7, 1906, at the home of Emily Fell, with Rev. Nathan Hunt presiding, the church members voted to extend letters of thanks to those who helped raise the bell and to Mrs. Chase for donating it.
A special service, probably attended by many, was held when the bell was dedicated, and Mrs. Chase was the first person to ring the bell. Inscribed on the bell, on opposite sides, are the words:
This Bell Is Given To
The Bryant’s Pond Baptist Church
In Loving Memory Of
Francis T. Faulkner
The Turner Woolen Mill Bell,
Previously at Minot’s Ledge Light House,
Is Incorporated Herein
Although some accounts of the day referred to the bell from Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse as being a Paul Revere Bell, according to bell historians, only bells made before 1811 can actually lay claim to the title of being Paul Revere Bells. Although two of Revere’s sons and a grandson did make bells after that, some of these bells are also incorrectly referred to as Paul Revere Bells. In 1906, shortly after the bell was rededicated, 89-year Otis H. Watson, of Waltham Street in Boston, tried to set the record straight when he reported that the bell had originally been cast by Henry N. Hooper & Company, a noted bell foundry of the time.
Shortly after the bell was dedicated at the Bryant Pond Baptist Church, the Lewiston Journal Newspaper of Lewiston Maine heralded the bell with a giant banner above a number of images that said, “A Bell That Has Tolled Two Tragedies.” The images shown in the layout included the first and second Minot’s Ledge Lighthouses, the Turner Woolen Mill, Francis T. Faulkner, the church, the recast bell, and the bell as it appeared after the fire. Of these, only the image of the damaged bell seems to have been misplaced in the pages of time, yet to be rediscovered. Original copies of the newspaper also seem to have been lost, with only poor quality copies still in existence. Amazingly, the clapper of the original bell from Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse still remains in the possession of the Bryant Pond Baptist Church.
It took 150 years before a memorial was built in Cohasset, Massachusetts to honor the memory of Joseph Wilson and Joseph Antoine, the two assistant keepers who lost their lives when the Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse collapsed. However, during all those years, with the exception of a short period of time and without the knowledge of most, their memory has been honored by the ringing of the bell that found its way to Maine, 146 miles inland from the ocean where it was once suspended.
Today, every Sunday when the bell rings to summon the congregation of the Bryant Pond Baptist Church to worship, it also rings in remembrance of Francis T. Faulkner, and the two assistant lighthouse keepers, all of whom dedicated their lives for the benefit of others. But none of this could have happened without the foresight of Mrs. Anna Mont Chase and the members of the congregation of the Bryant Pond Baptist Church who, over 100 years ago, accepted the historic bell for their church.
It was suggested by some after the 1906 dedication that the bell should be rung every April 17 in memory of the assistant lighthouse keepers who lost their lives and every September 3 in memory of Francis T. Faulkner.
There is a tablet at the church which honors the memory of Mrs. Chase who gave the bell to the church. The tablet, recalling the tragic history of bell, ends with the following words, “This bell is not only appreciated by the church, but its unusual sweetness of tone must be a source of pleasure to all who hear it.”
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This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2011 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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