The history of the bells of Stillwater

large church
St. Peter’s Church

By Linda Sanders, Historian

There is an old hymn that is sung in churches of the area at this time of the year entitled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It made me think of the writings of the late Mrs. Earl Hayner, beloved historian of both the Town and Village of Stillwater.

For many years Stillwater was known as a village of bells.

Five bells from the many churches namely St. Peter the Apostle, Schoonmaker Presbyterian, Second Baptist, John Episcopal and First Methodist Churches rang out every Sunday twice a day, and once during the week on prayer meeting night.

big church
St. John’s Church

Every school day the bell on the schoolhouse roof called the children in for morning and noon sessions, and for the lower grades for recess twice a day.

The bell on the Newland Knitting Mill rang at 6 a.m. and again at noon to call the worker men. Mules on the cnal often wore bells in winter. Sleigh bells sounded the beginning of winter snow, and it was a poor rig indeed that did not have its string of sleigh bells – the melodious of all bells.

Many kept a cow in the village. The cows wore cowbells, which could be heard as they were driven to pasture each day and returned at sundown.

The switch locomotive on the spur road into the village had its bell, almost constantly ringing in days when freight traffic was heavy.

Dinner bells were rung from the door of hotels and boarding houses and even private homes to call the folks to meals (especially on the farms.) Dinner at noon, supper at night, when the long work day demanded a hearty meal at noon. There were no coffee breaks then.

big church
Schoonmaker Church

There was no fire bell; the church bells would be rung for a fire. However, there were bells on the hose carts and the fire engines.

Of course there were lesser bells, too. Every bicycle had a little bell; scissor grinders rang a bell; houses had door bells that really clanged.

The first and oldest bell in the village probably came from the Hames Foundry in Troy. The year was 1832, the same year the old covered bridge was built. It was placed in the old Presbyterian Church on the hill, removed to the brick church on the hill when that was built in 1842, and again put in the belfry of the Schoonmaker Memorial Church in 1891.

The bell from the Episcopal Church is equally historic. That bell is believed to have been cast from silver by the Livingston family and the first communion service was tossed into the melting pot to produce a sweet and silvery tone was audible.

The bell was brought down from the Episcopal Church when the Catholic brothers bought the building for a Catholic church. It was treasured as a consecrated relic and was given to the diocese for a new church built in South Glens Falls.

The school bell was taken from the Academy when it was torn down in 1883 and placed in the new school. This was the Union School. Rope hung down in the front hall and Mr. Haight was in charge of pulling the bell to call the children to class.

I hope you enjoyed this historical story and if you happen to go by the United Church on the hour you can hear the Christmas hymns being played. The pictures of the different buildings mentioned can be found in the Stillwater book fromArcadia Press.

Have a wonderful safe hand happy holiday from your Stillwater historians!