The Bells of Vevay


 Note: My grandmother, Effa Morrison Danner, was a genealogist as well as a writer of many historic stories of around Vevay and Switzerland County. Effa was the founder of the historical society and collected lots of the items in the museum as the first President of the historical museum.

  The story she wrote of the ‘Bells of Vevay’ resonates an important role in the history of my own, as I several years ago repainted the fire bells and had signs made to explain what the fire bells were, by the sign painter Kevin Carlson of Madison. The bells needed to be repainted and new signs needed to be made for the five fire bells, so this time the city had them repainted and I had Steve Bickis of near Madison make new signs, which were hung by the Jeff-Craig Fire Company.

  If you will read the entire account of all the bells of Vevay, I’m sure you will realize the importance these bells can still bring to our charming community and future celebrations as they once did in the past.

— E. Michael Danner 


From The Switzerland Democrat,

December 19, 1941

  The origin of the bells is lost in antiquity. Moses wrote in Exodus of the robe of the High Priest being decorated with golden bells. Bells are mentioned in the oldest legends which concern our own country. In Europe for hundreds of years men told of the lost continent of Atlantus, beneath the sea where “sometimes the bells of the lost land can be heard sounding softly beneath the water.”

  One great gift of the old world to the new was the gift of bells, for Columbus brought small bells as an article of trade and the new tinkling music delighted the red man.

  Bells have always been identified with religious services both pagan and Christian, but they have served humanity in many capacities both in business and domestic and public affairs. Sending their musical sound waves on the air their tones soon become loved and venerated by a community and such are the bells of Vevay.

The Baptist Church Bell

  The longest authentic record of any of the bells of Vevay is that of the Baptist Church. It was mounted in the conical Swiss steeple of the old Baptist church when it was built in 1838, as is recorded in the “Village Times” (Vevay) of that year, quote: “Mathias Madary has donated a bell to the Baptist church.”

  Mr. Carroll Dodd who is authority on the Vevay bells stated that this bell was cast by G.L. Hanks, Cincinnati, O, the foundry mark. It has a large amount of silver in its composition, which gives its tenor tone. It weighs about 400 pounds. It is related that it had been a signal bell on a steam boat and salvaged from its disaster, for bells were used on boats long before steam whistles were invented.

  When the new Baptist Church was builded in 1873 the old bell was removed to its handsome spire. This bell has rung for several of the High School commencements held there, for pageants and watch night service. Time was when all the churches observed the French custom of the “trolling of the knell” at a member’s funeral.

  Week in and week out this bell has sounded ‘Lord’ for one hundred and three years, calling the people to the service of God.

The LeClerc House Bell

  This bell was mounted in a belfry back of the hotel and there for years and years it rang the meal signals as regularly as the clock struck the hours, always ringing fast and hurried as though it said, “Hurry up. Hurry up.” and people did walk faster just to keep time with the bell.

  It is not a large bell but it had a clear, far reaching sound. It rang the fire alarms on quick step time long before there were fire bells in the town, and located centrally it served as a town bell on many occasions. There is no foundry inscription on this bell. It was taken from its belfry September 5, 1901, and later loaned to some Hallowe’eners who carelessly dropped it and in a cracked condition, it was given to the Historical Society, who have it stored.

  The historical marker on the Swiss Inn shows a picture of this bell and the wording, “LeClerc House Bell heralded all public events 1833-1895”. It still rang after the LeClerc House was sold to other proprietors.

The Presbyterian Bells

  The Presbyterian Church has builded three churches on the same lot, 1828, 1844, 1859. The first bell was probably bought for the second church, as it was cast by VanDusin Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, which foundry celebrated its Centennial this year, 1941, and the old church was in a very bad condition when it was torn down, so the bell was for the new church. It was said to have been a steamboat bell, ringing for the landings and the river signals.

  There came to this church in 1845 the Rev. Hiram Wason and wife. They were college graduates from the East and they received permission from the trustees to open a select school in the church, where he hinged a writing shelf on the back of each pew so it could be dropped down out of the way in church service. He taught the academic grades and Mrs. Wason taught the primary grades. They were very popular and well loved by all who knew them. The Rev. Wason rang the church bell for his school sessions until 1857, the first school bell in Vevay.  Frank Dufour was a pupil in this school.

  When the church of 1859 was builded  they purchased a much larger bell and Dufour became the owner of the old church and school bell as related by Wm. Minnett in his Centennial History of the church. Mr. Dufour mounted the bell on his farm above town for a dinner bell; often its musical note was heard ringing out over the valley perpetuating many of those factors of our American life that we have come to love and to cherish.

  The second Presbyterian bell was bought when the present church was finished in 1860 and mounted in the high conical wooden steeple of Swiss type of architecture. September 21, 1864, was a gala day to the Vevay folk when the ringing of the Presbyterian bell and the firing of “Old Betts” the cannon, announced a dinner, reception, and program in the church grove given in honor of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry returned after three years of brilliant service in the Army of the Civil War.

  Strange as it may be the wood of which the conical steeple of this church was built had a special attraction for woodpeckers and they worked on it so industriously that they pecked holes through and through it. Standing on the corner of Main Street one could see through opposite holes at the top of the steeple; consequently this tall steeple was literally pecked down and a cupola built which lowers the architectural proportions of the church line.

  The bell was again mounted and rang for church service until about 1925, it became cracked. It was inspiring and pleasant to hear. It is a real loss to any community when the song of a beautifully toned bell becomes silent.

The School Bell

  The School Bell was mounted into the cupola of the grade building soon after it was builded in 1859. It was bought by F.L. Grisard, trustee, for $9.00 and weighs about 300 pounds.

  In all the years it has rung the schools sessions except one week it was silent. There were at this early time two boys, Lewis Jackson and ________ Titus, who were tired of school and they decided that if there was no bell to announced school, there would be no school. So they climbed up into the belfry and removed the clapper and hid it under a culvert at Rutherford’s smithy where the Legion Hall now stands. It was a week before the culprits were discovered and the clapper recovered. The boys found that school continued just the same whether it was belled or not belled.

  This bell has always rung out the old year and rung in the new in that chorus of bells.

Universalist Church Bell

  The first Universalist Church was built in 1862 on a lot back of the Phoenix Hotel. It was a small brick church with a steeple in which hung a large musical bell. The congregation was small and was finally unable to sustain a church and it was dismantled.

  When the Catholics were building their church on Ferry Street in 1873, they bought this Universalist Church bell.

Catholic Church Bell

  The Catholics builded their chapel of “Our Mother of Sorrows” in 1873. The mounted into the steeple with fitting ritualistic ceremonies the bell which had already rung for prayers for many years. Then this Catholic bell rang the Angelus three times each day, morning, noon, and evening, besides the regular church service.

  Now the congregation, having almost all removed when the furniture factory closed, the clear ‘C’ tone of this musical bell is seldom heard, but it always chimes in on the New Year’s anthem of bells.

The Courthouse Bell and Clock

  Mounted in the large dome over the Court House, this Court House bell is our only official bell and is the largest of all the Vevay bells.

  The original bill for this bell is as follows: “G.W. Coffin & Co., Bell and Brass Founders, E. 2nd Street, 102-104, Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb. 24, 1864.

  To Bell, Weight 1,455 lbs.

  Cost at .50:          $727.50

  Hangins for same:   40.00

  Drayage to Boat:         .30

  Total:                   $767.80

  By cash:   Wm. Anderson

  The name of the foundry is inscribed on the bell. This bell rang to announce the court sessions. When or why this custom ceased I do not know but it does seem that now is a good time to resume the ringing of this great bell for the court session that all the citizens may know there is law in the land.

  This bell rang for political meetings and rallys and community affairs held there and tolled the funerals of our martyred Presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. It pealed forth the news of the Armistice of the World War, Nov. 11, 1918 and since that date is had rung for the two minute prayer of Thanksgiving for world peace. Mr. Carroll Dodd, the cutodian of the bell and clock, tells me he has the carriage of the great bell oiled and ready to ring out the glad tidings of the wars of today of victory, victory, victory.

The Town Clock

  The word clock comes from a French word meaning ‘bell’. On January 14, 1864, the county commissioners agreed that if the citizens of the town would raise $400 that they would appropriate $600 to erect a town clock on the court house. U.P. Schenck and F.L. Grisard circulated a petition to the town trustees to appropriate the money for that purpose, which they did.

  The clock was placed in the dome near the bell and there are four dials, one on each side of the dome — North, South, East, and West. The clock was builded by Israel Fowler of Madison, Ind. Mr. Dodd states that his name and address is stamped on the metal of all the clock wheels. The weights are boulders in wooden cases, regulated by adding or taking out a stone. This clock is so set that its hammer strikes on the outside rim of the great bell which makes a far different sound from that of the 20-pount clapper striking the bell on the inside which resounds in a deep bass note.

  About 30 years ago this close went on a strike; it struck 80 times without stopping and for a week it struck on time and out of time before it was regulated; since then it has pealed forth and behaved very commendable. Mr. Russell O. Dufour of Ghent, Ky., had dedicated a poem to “The Old Town Clock of Vevay” published in 1937, quote in part:

“Twas in a time long passed away

We children startled from our play,

Would stand in silent reverence there

‘Twas like a Mueszzin’s call to prayer

The old town clock of Vevay.

A solemn note it sounds, alas,

When o’er the river’s molten glass,

The lights of Vevay hang like stars;

A twinkling chain of jewel fires,

The old town clock of Vevay.

Ah, floods may come and floods may go

And friends may pass — yes, friend and foe;

That voice still sounds its silver chime,

Defying every touch of time,

The old town clock of Vevay.”

The Fire Bells

  The fire bells were bought by the city council about 1895. One mounted near the center of each ward, they served the town faithfully in announcing disaster until 1935 they were superceded by an electric siren which no doubt is more effective but not pleasing to the ear.

  One of these fire bells is mounted at the apex of Market and Main streets and marks the entrances to Vevay. One is mounted at the engine house, Ferry Street.

Holiness Church Bell

  The latest church bell to mounted in Vevay is that of the Vevay Holiness League Tabernacle, 1939. It is not a large bell, but it is more frequently heard than any other.

  As far as I can ascertain, all the Vevay bells were cast in the Cincinnati foundaries.

The Methodist Church Bell

  After Ruter Chapel was builded, Joshia Jackman, an official member, who owned a small foundry in Vevay, was sent by the church officials to Cincinnati in 1864 to purchase a bell. He bought a 600-pound bell of VanDusin & Tiff and paid $250.00 for it. It was the heaviest bell in town at the time and some said it was too loud, but David Armstrong said, “This bell will peal out the tidings of great joy long after we have all gone to rest.”

  And so it has.

  It had a beautiful silver tone that carried far across the Ohio River to the town of Ghent, Ky., where there were building an M.E. church and they sent a committee over to learn where this bell had been purchased as they like its deep clear tone and wanted to buy one like it.

  The Vevay bell had a flaw and in a few years it cracked and it was sent back to the foundry in 1871 and recast, which changed it to a deeper but perfect piano tone.

  The VanDusin Co., having just celebrated their centennial as the church has its 125th anniversary this year (1941).

  The French of Vevay always made a gala holiday of New Years in a masque Mardi Gras. It began with the ringing out of the old year and ringing in the New Year at Midnight, by the bell ringers, the boys of the town. The M.E. Church had a crabbed janitor who opposed the bell ringing and locked the church to keep the ringers out, however they always got in, but this bell was always the last one to ring. About 1895 the janitor closed all the shutters upstairs and down, locked all the windows and the door, and going up town, bragged that no M.E. bell would ring that night. The hour approached, 15 minutes of Midnight New Year’s Eve, that great Court House bell boomed its heavy bass note, the Baptist tenor bell joined in, the school bell sounded a gaily tune, the Catholic bell and the Presbyterian followed. The Ghent bells chimed in on this mighty anthem of bells ringing out the old year on the crisp, cold, Midnight air. The town clock struck the hour and the old year and the old year passed out.

  Listening, still five minutes, 10 minutes, after 12, and the M.E. bell’s claron call rang out faster than it had ever rung before in all defiance of its former style, as it rang in a new regime for a half hour after all the other bells had ceased ringing.

  Next morning the janitor was raving, he was going to have the ringers arrested for two shutter slats and a window pane was broken where a window had been raised. However, the trustees found the ringers were the sons and grandsons who were church members, so they paid the damage and decreed that ever after the M.E. bell should ring as the other town bells rang out the old year and rang in the New Year.

  It seems fitting that all the bells should ring on Christmas at a stated time in honor of the Prince of Peace.

  We are looking forward to the Vevay Anthem of Bells on New Year’s Eve, listening to their beautiful blending in cadence sweet which binds a community in close accord, bringing a feeling of good fellowship made secure in a resounding testament of humble faith. May the deep toned bells in our steeples ring this year as never before and:

“Ring out the thousand wars of old

Ring in the thousand years of peace

Ring in the valiant men, and free

The larger heart, the kindlier hand,

Ring out the darkness of th eland

Ring in the Christ that is to be.”