Some of the old bells used by the pioneers of Southern Lake County have been preserved and are on display, and most of them tell a story or tale. Some are made of cast iron, others of bronze, and they come from churches, schools and farms.
There is a large cast iron bell proudly displayed over the sign at the Cedar Lake United Methodist Church, fastened to an interesting adjustable (for height) yoke. The Old Timer was surprised to hear the story told by the historian of the church, who said the bell comes from the "old courthouse" at Crown Point, a frame building which was built in 1849.
It was presented to the church by a "Lake County official." The presentation was made sometime between 1964 and 1966, when Rev. Saxe was the pastor. The 800-pound bell bears a small plaque that reads "In memory of Mr. H.A. Phelps." According to the Lake County Centennial newspaper edition, the site of that 1849 courthouse is now Clark St., between Main and Court Streets at Crown Point facing south. The building, sold in about 1880, was moved to W. Joliet St. and was used as Hoffman's Opera House.
In 1858 pioneer Matthias Geisen donated several acres of land at Hanover Center (Cook Cedar Lake), and the following year a 20 foot by 30 foot frame church building was erected as the parish of St. Matthias. This small church was destroyed by fire in 1866, and was replaced by a larger frame building, 36-by-66 ft., which became the Church of St. Martin in 1868.
That year the Geisen family donated three large church bells, used in that new church and also in a newer brick church completed in 1913. When the brick church was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1930, the bells were given back to the Geisen family, and today two of them are on display at the Geisen Funeral Homes in Crown Point and Merrillville.
The bell at Crown Point was cast by J.G. Stuckstede and Brother at St. Louis, Mo. in 1868, and has decorative engraving.
The engraving includes "Matthias Geisen, Benefactor," and a design depicting the Trinity, with the words "Deo Uni et Trino." Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, completed in 1942, replaced St. Martin's, destroyed by the fire of 1930.
The following is taken from the Reports of the Old Settler and Historical Assn. of Lake County, 1905, which included articles from 1900 to 1905: "On Feb. 13th, 1903, C. Scheidler, having started at Cedar Lake a bell foundry, made the first cast of a nine-inch bell, called a fine piece of work, and he had then underway three large bells. He claims to be able to make superior bells."
Matthias Geisen was a retired silversmith, experienced in casting bells. His son, Nicholas, assisted at that bell factory, which was located in Armour Town, Northwest Cedar Lake.
While at Crown Point, the Old Timer was told about another bell displayed near Geisen's. This bell, displayed on a pedestal at the Crown Point Fire Dept. building, came from the old building called the Crown Point Central Fire Station on Clark St. It was cast by the same company as the Geisen bells, the Stuckstede Bell Foundry Co. of St. Louis, in 1892.
An old bell is hanging in a picnic shelter near the San Damiano Friary at Cedar Lake (Parrish Ave.), fastened to a type of yoke used on posts in barnyards and other places. This 15-inch bell was made by the "C.S. Bell CO." of Hillsboro, Ohio, a city east of Cincinnati and bears the date 1886.
This is from the History of the First United Methodist Church of Lowell: "a very generous minded citizen, Peter Angelo, shared his estate with three Lowell Churches: Methodist, Church of Christ and Catholic. The amount is thought to have been $700 which each received from the estate in 1927. To this amount the Ladies Aid added sufficient funds to purchase the clock and bell. The entire cost was 1,200 dollars." The clock and bell are in the present church on E. Commercial Ave.
The bell in the old frame Range Line Presbyterian Church in rural Hebron was donated in about 1947 by Clem and Lottie Fifield in memory of their son, Rex, who was listed as missing in action during World War II. The bell was sold with the old church, and was later stolen from the buyer.
On a recent visit to Shelby the Old Timer researched the old bell on display at the Shelby Community Park (owned by Cedar Creek Township), the former site of the Shelby Grade School, where the bell was first installed in 1910. It was removed from the bell loft in 1975 and was erected in the park in October, 1977, by the Shelby Lioness Club. It is a 30-inch bell, believed to have been also cast at Cincinnati.
The Old Timer is sure that he has not found all the interesting bells in the area.
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