100-year-old bell restored at Pa. fire station

The outside of the bell tower is sealed and waterproofed, the inside newly plastered, and the bell itself restored and hooked up to a new electronic system

By Jacob Tierney
The Tribune-Review

GREENSBURG, Pa. — The firehouse bell chimed over Greensburg on Friday as Jean Rowe watched from a lawn chair.

She had set aside her morning to visit Greensburg Fire Department Hose Company No. 8 to see the bell lifted by a crane and restored to its place in a tower to ring for the first time in decades.

“I think it's perfect,” Rowe said. “I just wish the people would come forward with a lot of money to pay for that; it's a historical thing.”

The bell tower restoration project has been in the works for two years, and raising funds has been a struggle, said Clyde Snyder, the firefighter who organized the effort.

“It's tough to fund-raise. It's not a high-visibility project,” he said.

The sight of the restored tower recalled years of history for Rowe and many of the other firefighters and auxiliary members who turned out to watch. She met her husband, the late fireman W. Wayne Rowe, at a New Year's party at the fire station in the 1940s.

Wayne Rowe used to sleep in the bell tower at night with some of his fellow firefighters, Jean Rowe said. He'd get a rude awakening when the bell sounded the alarm, but he didn't mind.

“They wanted to be the first ones there,” Jean Rowe said. “They didn't care.”

The bell's been silent since the 1950s, when horns were installed to sound the alarm.

“When I was a kid, I used to live right beside the hose house here,” said firefighter Larry Kempert. “I remember the bell ringing plain as day. Then they got the big horn up there, and it was a big change for the time.”

Later, the ringer was removed from the bell, and the tower slowly fell into disrepair.

The bell was crafted for Ludlow, Vt., in 1907, and it is still inscribed with the name of that village and its trustees. The Greensburg Fire Department bought it used in 1932.

It remained in the tower until this year, when rehabilitation work began. The bell spent about five months in Cincinnati, where Verdin Bells and Clocks cleaned it and installed a new, electronically controlled ringer.

The work that's been done cost about $40,000. The outside of the bell tower is sealed and waterproofed, the inside newly plastered, and the bell itself restored and hooked up to a new electronic system.

The first $20,000 came from the city, and donations covered some of the work. Jeannette Steel and Supply Co. donated the crane. But the fire department had to use $13,000 of its own funds to cover the rest, despite hopes that fundraising would suffice, Snyder said.

He'd like to do more, like rebuilding the cupola that once capped the tower. But that would cost another $30,000, money the department doesn't have.

A fundraising drive set up on gofundme.com in January has raised less than $2,000 of its $35,000 goal.

For now, Snyder's happy just to have the bell ringing again.

“It's a piece of history that would have been lost if we hadn't done this,” he said.

The bell will chime on the hour during the day from now on, Snyder said.

Copyright 2016 Tribune-Review

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