The Bells of Edmond

 

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the January 2019 Issue

Throughout American history, bells have signaled important moments and the passing of time. A surprising number of historical and symbolic bells exist in Edmond. Each has its own rich, ringing, history—and here are a few examples:

The Oldest Bell

A tradition exists on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma that graduates walk by and touch the bell in Barnett Plaza. The bell is believed to date back to the 1890s, when it first rang to call the college students to school. The school was established as the first teacher-training college in Oklahoma Territory. Although the bell’s exact journey of moving to various sites on campus, including Old North, is unclear, the symbolism of the bell is crystal clear—to announce the beginning of the school day. Since education is woven into the very fabric of this community, the importance of this 120+ year bell really resonates.

The Most-Heard Church Bell

Like the Big Ben of Edmond--time is signaled on the hour and half-hour from the bell tower of First Christian Church at 2nd and Boulevard! At noon and five o’clock, the “chimes” are replaced with the full pealing of religious songs. This tradition began in 1996 when the church’s new steeple and sanctuary were completed and dedicated. The bells are not actual bells, but rather a modern sound system played by a digital “carillon.” The system was purchased in honor of the members and congregation of First Christian Church and for the Edmond community. The music is heard from the Public Library, UCO campus, downtown Edmond and nearby neighborhoods--even further on a clear day.

The Old-Fashioned Bell

Near the college campus, another bell rang to start the school day in Oklahoma Territory. The Ladies Aid Society raised funds to build the elementary-age schoolhouse in 1889, and during its second year, purchased a 325-pound bell. Volunteers built the belfry on the north end of the schoolhouse, which is still visible today. The schoolhouse was restored by the Edmond Preservation Trust in 2007. Knowledge of the original bell remains a mystery, but the current bell was purchased by citizens during the reconstruction. The bell is sounded the old-fashioned way, by pulling on a rope, to signal holidays and Territorial Schoolhouse programs hosted by the Edmond Historical Society & Museum.

The Little Bells

Hand-sized bells are part of the tradition of First United Methodist Church in Edmond. The first building and belfry were built shortly after the Land Run, but burned down in 1927. The damaged bell was melted to form small, memorial handbells, which the church sold for $1 each to raise funds for the new building at its present location. Incidentally, the church has a long- standing handbell choir that plays for worship services and holiday events.

The Newest (and Biggest) Bell

St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Oklahoma City has an iconic bell tower. Recently, while having some work done on the bells, staff discovered an identical, unused bell at a foundry in Cincinnati. It is exactly the same, except bigger, at six feet tall and weighing 13,000 pounds--making it the 7th largest free-standing bell in the United States! The church decided that the perfect home for this sister bell was at the Edmond branch of St. Luke’s. Plans are underway to install the bell for the church’s 5th Anniversary on March 31st, where the bell will ceremonially ring for the first time. Its street corner location will eventually include a tall, three-cross structure, making the bell visible from I-35. 

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