Forgotten historic bell tolls again in the Holy City
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Carly Q. Romalino, Courier-Post Published 2:04 p.m. ET Sept. 21, 2017 | Updated 9:24 p.m. ET Sept. 23, 2017
GLOUCESTER CITY - A half-ton cast bronze bell, wrapped under a blue tarp and mounted in front of the Gloucester City Municipal Building this week, doesn't have any famous imperfections.
City school children don't read about its 80-foot fall from the bell tower in textbooks.
And it doesn't have a famous crack.
But, it's a symbol of this small city's past, one as dusty as the workers it called to the mills, and as faithful to the city as the parishioners it beckoned to Sunday services.
City officials will pull back the tarp this weekend, dedicating the ringing relic Saturday in an 11 a.m. ceremony at the municipal building, marking its new home at Broadway and Monmouth Street.
The bell has had several homes in the city since it was first put up on the First Presbyterian Church building in the 1800s.
The cast bronze bell spent the last 60-plus years collecting dust in a Gloucester City Highway Department storage room, salvaged from the demolition of its second location, but left unappreciated by the public.
"Being in storage for 60 years, it needed some cleaning up," said Mike Barron, co-owner of H. Barron Ironworks with his brother Dennis.
The brothers were first brought into the business of fixing up city artifacts in 2015 by Joe Hargesheimer, the custodian of city history. He recruited the Barrons' help when Sadie, a bronze statue in Proprietor's Park on the Delaware River since the 1930s, lost an arm. The ironworks helped restore the bronze beauty and protect her with an iron fence.
Hargesheimer called the brothers to action again to restore and remount the bell.
The bell was in good shape, Mike Barron said, despite what it's been through.
It was installed in the towering 83-foot steeple of the First Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in the city, when it was built in the 1840s, according to Hargesheimer.
A strong storm brought the steeple down in 1853. It was never rebuilt. The church — now home to Potter's House Assembly of God — still stands at Monmouth and Burlington streets.
The original pews remain inside, according to Potter's House Pastor Ruben Gomez, whose congregation will go to settlement on the church in November. In the balcony, there is a long hatch to the attic that would have given bell tower access, the pastor said.
After the storm, the bell was transferred to Washington Mills, a former factory along the Delaware River, where it lived for about a century. It rang to call its workers in each morning, and it rang on Sundays for church services. When Washington Mills came down in the 1950s, the bell was relocated to a highway department storage area, Hargesheimer said.
It collected dust and grime for decades since, until Hargesheimer and the Barrons — with city support — made it their next restoration project.
The Barrons used industrial cleaners to restore the dusty, dirty cast bronze bell.
They built a mount, and used a small crane Monday to lift the 1,000-pound relic into place.
"We need to preserve our historical things. They should be on display," Mike Barron said.
"We have a lot of pride that way."
Carly Q. Romalino; (856) 486-2476; firstname.lastname@example.org