Church Bell Linked to Paul Revere Facing Major RepairMar 30, 2021 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
Bellingham's First Baptist Church
By KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer
The 188-year-old bell that resides in the steeple of the First Baptist Church of Bellingham is indirectly linked to Paul Revere, who warned that “the British are coming” as the Revolutionary War got under way.
The church, which was built in 1826 by Malachi and Appleton Ballard of Medway for $2,600, added the bell in 1833. It was rung on Sundays, but its sound also was heard on other days to alert the community of an emergency. Basically, it was the community’s 9-1-1 alarm.
The bell, which is 36 inches wide and 28 inches high, underwent major restoration in 1988, thanks to Bellingham’s Russell Chase and Ernest Godbout, who each volunteered 40 hours on its repair.
Now, 33 years later, the historic bell again needs repair—on two fronts. Its cradle has deteriorated, making the bell unsafe to ring, and the support beams for the bell tower need to be reinforced with steel. The cost of the project is $17,000.
The price involves lifting the bell off its existing cradle and demolishing the old cradle. Then a new pressure-treated cradle would be fabricated and painted. The existing bell then would be lowered into the new cradle. The beam repair will require the use of a crane to position the steel required to reinforce the existing beams.
The church, which is the fourth oldest Baptist congregation in Massachusetts, welcomes donations to help defray the cost of this major expenditure. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the church, like so many other small congregations, has seen a significant decrease in giving.
Jim Hastings, chairman of the Memorial Day and Veterans Day Committee, is hopeful that when the bell is repaired it can be rung at future ceremonies after the announcement of the names of all Bellingham residents who lost their lives in battle.
An inscription on the bell is very telling. It reads: “Cast by G.H. Holbrook, East Medway, Mass.” That indicates a link to Revere.
George Holbrook learned bell founding (melting metal into a mold) and clock-making as an apprentice to Revere, a master craftsman who took great satisfaction in all of his many endeavors. Holbrook, who was born in 1767 in Wrentham, maintained a long friendship with Revere until his death.
While Revere is best known for his famous Midnight Ride and for his silver-smithing, he set up a foundry in the North End of Boston after the Revolution, making iron and later brass items, such as stoves, hearths, anvils and cannons. In 1792, he agreed to re-cast the cracked bell from what is now the Old North Church in Boston, and from this beginning, the Revere foundry went on to cast 398 bells between 1792 and 1828, first in the North End and, after 1804, in Canton, Mass.
Receiving only a limited education in public schools, Holbrook learned to be a machinist and clock-maker during his apprentice time with Revere. After serving with the Massachusetts Patriots, Holbrook began manufacturing bells and built a successful business in Brookfield, Mass. The design of his bells was similar to the design of Revere bells, making them highly sought after by collectors.
Later beset with financial troubles because of bank notes he had endorsed for a friend who defaulted, Holbrook left Brookfield for Laconia, NH, where he became a farmer. His foundry operated under the management of Holbrook family members until 1880, when it closed.
Holbrook died in 1846, leaving a lasting legacy as one of the first bell manufacturers in American history.
It’s estimated that 11,000 bells were cast at his establishments, and they were sent to all parts of the United States, British Provinces, Mexico and the Sandwich Islands. The reputation of Holbrook bells was well-known and they were exhibited at industrial gatherings throughout the country. They competed with other bells but always achieved the highest awards.
The 188-year-old bell at the First Baptist Church, which celebrated its 275th anniversary in 2012, is a testament to Holbrook’s skill set. It still has a majestic sound, and its history is indeed revolutionary because of its link to Paul Revere.