Bells will be ringing’…

By on April 17, 2019

After decades of silence, historic 1800s Linden Hall bells are ringing again

Downtown Lititz just got a little more sweet sounding.

First installed 135 years ago, three historic bells, which have sat high atop the belfry in Mary Dixon Chapel on the campus of Linden Hall for generations, were recently put back into commission after many years of silence.

For staff, teachers, and students, the news was music to their ears.

The 1884 bells high atop the Mary Dixon Chapel

Originally cast by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore, Maryland (a business which still exists today) and installed in 1884, the bells helped celebrate special ocassions throughout the town like the 4th of July, Christmas Day, the Moravian Church’s 100th anniversary in 1887, and even to signal the end of World War 1. Each bell is also inscribed with a verse from Psalm 100.

“They used to ring to call them (the students) to vespers,” added Joanne Weidman, CFO of Linden Hall.

But eventually, the music went away.

Nobody seems to know exactly when the last time they rang on a regular basis or why they were silenced in the first place; but many feel it’s been at least a few decades since they last chimed.
But now, they’re getting a new lease on life, all thanks to an upcoming restoration project involving having the steeple repointed.

“That’s how it started,” said Jacob Olree, Director of Facilities and Operations at Linden Hall. “So I began looking at the chapel as a whole.”

That’s also when the ‘a-ha’ moment arrived.

“While we were doing that, we found all the bells, and we found parts of the clappers,” he added. The clappers were then repaired and reconnected. Weak spots in the floor were also fixed, and the bells received a good cleaning. Brand new ropes were also affixed to the clappers, and ascended down to a lower floor so they could be pulled by the students. New screens were also introduced in the belfry to hinder future winged pests–for many years, birds found their way inside and built nests.

“That area was getting kind of bad,” added Wediman of the restoration.

On July 4, 1883, George Dixon broke ground for the foundation of the Mary Dixon Chapel on the campus of Linden Hall. It was all built in memory of his daughter, Mary, who was a student of the school and succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 19.

While this story has a happy ending, the tale behind the origin of the chapel does not.

On July 4, 1883, George Dixon broke ground for the foundation of the structure. It was all built in memory of his daughter, Mary, who was a student of the school and succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 19. Standing 115 feet tall, the chapel was constructed with limestone from a Lititz quarry and sandstone from north of the borough in Schaefferstown. The architect in charge of the project was William G. Hale (1848-1907) of Philadelphia. Total cost of construction was $23,000.

As work progressed, Dixon himself would be present at the cornerstone laying in October, 1883.

Sadly, however, he died in May, 1884, and didn’t live to see its completion. The chapel would eventually be dedicated in February of 1885. The bells rang at 7 a.m. that morning to honor the dedication of the Gothic style structure, and were tuned to the chord of A major. As part of the celebration, a railroad car brought invited guests to Lititz from all around the county and as far away as Bethlehem.

The recent restoration was a two week long project but a labor of love for Olree, who is happy that the bells are now back in operation.

“We were thinking of ringing them for graduation and other special occassions,” Weidman said.

Appropriately enough, staff members are also planning to ring them on the campus’s yearly Mary Dixon Day.

That mere thought would no doubt put a smile on her late father’s face.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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