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Historic bell, Bible connects Halifax UMC to past

The Halifax United Methodist Church on Mountain Road in the Town of Halifax, formerly known as St. Mark Church, dates back to ca. 1829 and contains a vast amount of history.

 Today, Douglas Powell, church historian and member since 1965, continues to make a connection with the past as he researches the history of the church’s bell.

 The children of the church ring the bell every Sunday morning to notify the public of the church’s morning service. But Powell recalls a time when the bell was not used.

 At one time, the bell’s sound was so distorted, the church stopped using it because it hurt to listen to it.

 Legend has it that during the Civil War the bell had been taken down to be melted to make
cannons, but the war ended before they had a chance to melt it. 

According to the legend, the bell was cracked in the process of being put back in the church.

 An intrigued Powell said he searched around for bell restorations firms that might be able to help with repairing the bell.

He found a firm in Baltimore, Md. who assessed the bell’s problem by the sound it made when hit with a hammer. 

Powell diligently tape-recorded the sound the bell made and took it to the bell restoration firm. 

Immediately, they determined the bell was not cracked. Instead, the clapper wasn’t hitting the bell in the correct place. Nor was it the right shape or size, they said. 

According to Powell, somewhere along the way the original clapper was lost, and a former parishioner replaced it with a homemade clapper.  

So to make the bell sound whole again, the homemade clapper was replaced with a custom-made clapper, and the sound was restored. 

Once again the bell would ring on Sunday mornings just as it did over a century ago.

 Powell recalled his father-in-law, the late Sam Cox, at the age of 91, climbing the steps with the children to ring the bell every Sunday morning before church. 

During the bell’s restoration process, Powell conducted his own research on the bell’s origins.  

He said he noticed that “W. Buckley New York” was engraved on the bell and hoped that information would tell him where the bell originated.

 Powell connected with New York architect David Grider who researches bells as a hobby. Grid discovered that Brooklyn Founder William Buckley, who died in 1850, had cast the bell.  

Grider also discovered Buckley was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in a plot owned by James Gregory and his siblings.  

According to Powell, James Gregory is noted to be the true apprentice of Buckley, taking over his business upon his death.

Grider recently discovered evidence that Buckley was Gregory’s grandfather explaining the intimate connections between these men, Powell said.

The foundry owned by Buckley is known to have cast parts for the USS Monitor, the union ironclad made famous in 1862 during the War Between the States, he added.

Gregory ran the brass foundry at the corner of Cannon and Stanton streets in Manhattan, N.Y., where he cast many bells. 

One of Gregory’s most well-known bells is the “mechanics bell,” cast in a 1880 and rung by the workers of Manhattan in the 19th century shipyards to mark their 10-hour day.

Powell continues to research the history of the church, and with the help of Grid, he has solved the mystery of the church bell history.

 Halifax United Methodist Church contains many pieces of history, he is quick to point out. 

The sanctuary is the same sanctuary with the same pews used when it was built. 

The balcony where slaves used to sit when they came to church with their owners still remains, and a Bible dating back to 1841 sits in a case in the church foyer.