“Lowell’s not-so-famous bell” by Jim Peters
Jim Peters shares another story about the history of Lowell.
Paul Revere served primarily as a Silversmith. He made beautiful silver dinnerware for the wealthy of Boston and its environs. What people do not know is that he also had a foundry and in this manufacturing plant, he made, among other things, bells for churches and town halls. After his death his son took over the foundry and continued to make bells. In the 1820’s, a Baptist Church was located approximately across from the Dunkin Donuts on Middlesex Street in what was then East Chelmsford. The neighborhood was “hot” partially because of the fact that it bordered the Middlesex Canal. Here tourists, including the Thoreau brothers of Concord, could float up the canal to the Merrimack River and enjoy the quiet and the scenery. Many, many people came to visit East Chelmsford, and that new experiment downriver called Lowell, in the 1820’s.
When the Baptist Church was constructed they wanted the foremost foundry in the United States to make the bell which was going to call citizens of that faith to church. They went with the Revere Foundry and the Revere family to make the bell. It was a large bell, and probably floated up here on the Middlesex Canal. It was installed in the steeple, no small feat at the time. There were no cranes as there are today, and they had to install the bell with saws and hammers, bolts and buckets. When it was constructed into the steeple of the church it could be heard all over the area. How do I know that it could be heard? Because it is still ringing and is heard on Sundays in its current location.
Lowell has one of the best kept secrets hidden in Pawtucketville. It has that original Paul Revere bell in the Congregational Church across from McDonald’s on Mammoth Road at the church that fills its yard with pumpkins every October. How it got there is the story.
It sometimes happens, an old building of a historic nature burns to the ground inexpicably. That is what happened to the Baptist Church on Middlesex Street, which sat on the ground across from Wendy’s, where Wendy’s is now. The steeple caught on fire and the heavy bell, set and made in the Revere Foundry, which was known as Bell #15, crashed to the ground. The church, beset with debt from the fire, sold the Revere bell to the Congregational Church on the corner of Mammoth Road and the now called VFW Highway. Then, it was known as the Pawtucket Boulevard. The Congregational Church bought the bell, and in a parade-like procession, moved it to the spot where their new steeple was being made. Along the route, word came that John Brown was executed and one of the people walking with the bell rung it in John Brown’s memory.
When it crossed the bridge, it was strapped to a massive crane that was anchored in the dirt. Then, working together, a team of men and horses lifted the bell into place on the steeple. They rang it, supposedly as a test, but probably to say they rang the Paul Revere bell. It is still heard throughout Pawtucketville and the Acre across the river on any given Sunday.
At the Lowell Motor Boat Club, we can see the church clearly across the water. Its image reflects in the water. Photos of the bell are not so easily dispensed. One of our members got to see the bell when he went to the church for “Open Doors” Lowell Day. He was kind enough to take some pictures and verified that the bell was cast in the Revere Foundry, and that it was the fifteenth bell cast out of 100. At least, I believe that is what he told me. He got the information from the Pastor or Curator or someone in the church.
I would not recommend that you insist on seeing the bell. It is very hard to get to, and fraught with difficulties. In addition, it is not really in a well-traveled area. The stairs and ladder to get to it are dangerous and the church does not want to see a crowd of people just looking for a glimpse at Lowell’s second most famous bell (in my opinion, the most famous bell is in the Boott Mills). Just be satisfied knowing that it exists and is well-cared for.
I was having dinner at La Boniche when it was on Gorham Street in the old Nickie’s Bar, which is famous as a Kerouac hang-out. My brother-in-law, the famous one, was being told history stories by yours truly when he asked how many bells there were in Lowell. I did not have the answer to that one, so he called City Manager Brian Martin the next day and asked him to ascertain how many bells there were still in their cradles. The answer, Brian told me, was twenty-two. This is a story about one of them. It is a good story. Do not forget to tell your children and grandchildren about Lowell’s famous bell. They will be fascinated.