Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ding Dong!

The Issaquah History Museums receive hundreds of research requests each year. Some of them are duplicates (“What does Issaquah mean?” is a common one) and some of them are unique and memorable (in 2000, someone called to ask if Issaquah’s gingko tree is a male or female). Some of them lead us down interesting paths to find answers, and some of them end up providing US with more information about something that we didn’t know.

This week, we received an information request from someone who had a question about Issaquah’s old Methodist Church and a bell. Boone D. described the bell’s size and its markings:
Buckeye Bell foundry 1895
The E. W. Vanduzen Co. Cincinnati

Issaquah M. E. Church
Nov. 28. 1895.

He wanted to know anything that could be found out about the church where the bell was originally used, and the significance of the date on the side. He also wanted to know when the bell left Issaquah. This left me with an even more fascinating question – where was Boone and how did the bell end up there today?

Fortunately, Harriet Fish wrote an article about bells (“Bells Integral part of early Town”, originally published by the Issaquah Press, also published in This Was Issaquah) that we’d used in the past to identify one of our own bells. The article seems to raise more bell questions than it answers in some instances, but in the case of the Methodist church, there are helpful clues. According to Fish, the bell “was used regularly until the building was razed in the early 1950s – bell, lumber and all being transported to Kelso, Washington.”

So that was where the bell ended up.

And it had obviously started out at the Buckeye Bell Foundry in Cincinnati. In this respect, the bell is in excellent company. The Buckeye Bell Foundry produced bells for nearly 100 years, and the results are distributed among bell towers all over the world (some have even been found in a tiny church in Sichuan, China, where they were lucky to survive that country’s Great Leap Forward).

Figuring out the significance of the date on the side was a little more complicated – and. Issaquah’s first church was a Methodist church, and it was built on a plot of land donated by Ingebright Wold. The church was located near the school on what became known as School House hill. In 2014, we know it as the hill where the Julius Boehm pool and Issaquah Middle School are located. Harriet Fish cited a book called “Glimpses in Pioneer Life on Puget Sound,” by Reverend A. Atwood, which described the origins of the Methodist Church in Issaquah. Wold donated the land in 1889, and construction of the church was completed in 1890. A parsonage was later built in 1898. However, Atwood notes that “During the pastorage of Brother Wadsworth a bell was purchased to call the people to worship.” It’s likely that the date on the bell represents either some symbolic anniversary (which I can’t guess) or the formal dedication of the bell itself in 1895.

I was a bit skeptical about the town name on the bell. As you might know, Issaquah was called Gilman from the time it was incorporated in 1892 until its official name change in 1899. The name “Issaquah” came into use before the official name change, but four years before? Atwood’s research answers this question as well, commenting that name Issaquah first appears in church records in 1895. Atwood recognizes the following people for making contributions to the founding and equipping of Issaquah's first church building, "Gen. George W. Tibbetts, James Bush, W. R. Bush, L.A. Wold, George Davis, John Friend, Peter Rippe [Reppe], Peter Smith and others rendered assistance either in money or work in the building of this church." 

I typed up my findings and sent them to Boone, now growing more and more curious about the bell’s current circumstances. This morning I heard back from him. The Issaquah Methodist-Episcopal Church’s former bell is not in Kelso, but hangs at a church camp in Port Orchard, WA, where it still gets regular use. The bell has been there since the camp was built in 1955. Boone shared pictures of the bell with me, although he noted, “Sorry the pictures aren’t very clear, the bell tower is a little cramped so it’s hard to get a good angle to show the whole bell.” If you look closely, you can see where the word Issaquah is engraved.

Click the pictures to see them in larger format. The custom engraving is much less visible than the bell’s maker markings.




Did the bell (and building) make it to Kelso? Did they decide not to re-construct Issaquah’s old church? Did they build it, but decide against the bell? Where was the bell between 1952 and 1955? We’ll let you know if we make any more progress on this history mystery.


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