The bells are back! Lexington Avenue Baptist Church re-installs bells

Lexington Avenue Baptist Church’s bells have returned with refurbished framing, thanks entirely to thousands of dollars of donations from church members, past members, and community lovers of the bells.

Fourth Street was blocked off Wednesday by a crane installing the church’s 80-year-old bells. Workers put them up in the church bell tower, hoping it wouldn’t rain. There are 11 bells, which vary in size.

The church will also soon see a new control board to control the chimes from inside the building. The cost of the board was also covered by donations.

Beverly Durham, who is co-chair of the Bell Chimes Restoration Committee and has been a member of the church for 60 years, said the committee — composed of herself and her husband Fred, who serve as co-chairs, Mary Elizabeth Godbey, Jan Edmiston and Duane Campbell — has worked hard to get the word out. People also learned of the undertaking via word of mouth, a church bulletin, and newspaper articles.

“We have made the money during the pandemic,” Durham said. “That’s why it’s a miracle. During the pandemic, we have raised the money, when the church was closed.”

According to past Advocate-Messenger reporting, the total cost for restoration of the steel frame and bell maintenance was about $55,000, and the bells were taken down for frame restoration in July 2020.

Durham said community support has been tremendous. On Wednesday she noted she is also thankful for the patience of the church’s neighbors — though Fourth Street had to be blocked off for installation, she said the church didn’t hear any neighbor complaints.

Phil Dravage, a technician for Verdin Bells and Clocks based in Cincinnati, helped guide fellow technicians as they installed the bells on Wednesday. He said the pieces of the frame were bolted together, and the bells were fitted into the holes of the frame.

They don’t swing, he said. Instead, they have a mechanism that “dings” the sides of the bell, controlled by a control board.

Since the bells were originally installed in 1941, the bolts were rusted, and the frame was in bad shape. In fact, one of the bells fell around the last time the church tried to play a song last year. It was one of the smaller bells, weighing around 65-70 pounds. Dravage said it was a “miracle” it didn’t fall out of the tower.

Durham said if it had been one of the largest bells, at around 700 pounds, it could have crashed through the sanctuary.

What needed to happen was the original frame was taken out, sand-blasted, galvanized, re-painted, re-strengthened, re-welded, re-polished, and re-sanded, Dravage said. Then it went back up, and the company knew the bells would fit since it was the original framework.

A brief history of the bells, as indicated by the engravings on the bells, is that they were gifted to the church by John A. Chesnut and his wife. Chesnut was one of the owners of Chesnut-Salter-Best Hardware Store in Danville. He gifted them around September 1941, a few months before the U.S. entered into World War II.

The bells themselves are still in good condition.

Durham said the church plans to have a celebration showcasing the bells once the control board is installed.

Bruce Richardson, owner at Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, served as minister of music at the church from 1984 to 1995 — it was what brought him to Danville, and since then he never left town.

As the crane lifted one of the bells to the tower, he smiled as he lifted his phone and recorded the occasion.

He said additionally, one of the bells had to be melted and re-cast because it was cracked, so it doesn’t have patina like the other 10. It appears a brighter, less oxidized color.

“These bells are really a part of the fabric of the city of Danville, and I’m just delighted to see them come back to life again,” he said.