Hearing bells ring to signify the start of a Sunday Service from a church is not an unfamiliar sound. But it was an unfamiliar sound at one time at Grace Church on Taylors Island. Because at one time, the Church had no bell.
The Church construction and consecration was in 1873, and a fine tower for a bell was part of the construction. It is quite apparent that a bell was intended for the tower, but none was included in the completion of the Church. Perhaps the trustees ran out of money, or perhaps the bell was just overlooked. Regardless of the reason, for 100 years the bell tower stood empty. It wasn’t until the mid-1970’s that the first pull of the bell rope and the first dulcet tones were heard from this Church announcing, that Sunday service was about to begin.
The officers of the Grace Foundation (organized in the 1950) realized the emptiness in the steeple. They were keeping their eyes open for a used bell, from perhaps a demolished school house or church. None were to be found. In May of 1975, the officers of the organization decided to purchase a bell for the Church. They decided that this scouting around for a hand-me-down bell that might not even fit the space, that could be too heavy or one that might not sound right, should be abandoned. They decided to put in place a new bell, “tailor made”, just for Grace Church.
They contacted the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, MD to get a proper bell cast. At the time, this Bell Foundry had been in business for 119 years and had made bells for churches all over the country. And also at the time, they were the only company in the US still making bells for churches. The foundry suggested a bell 25” across the bottom and about 300 lbs. in weight. It was to be manufactured from genuine bell metal which consisted of virgin tin and copper. The price was a staggering $1,500 plus a “couple of hundred” for lifting and installing it with a crane.
They ordered the bell in May of 1975 with McShane’s, giving them $750 as down payment. The agreement included delivery to the Church and supervision of the installation. It would be up to Grace Foundation to hire the crane and actually install the bell. The hope was to have this bell “pealing melodiously” by August of the same year.
Preparations began in earnest. They inspected the tower. And they developed a plan. The plan was to have the cradle go up first, with the bell following. The rope or whip was to be slung from a yoke, affixed midway of the bell. There were going to use a small crane to lift the bell into place. The foundry was going to give the Grace Foundation officers notice as to when the bell would be completed and delivered. And the plan was set.
Time went on. In early 1976, there was no word from the foundry on the completion of the bell. The officers were getting discouraged and disturbed about the delay. They called the foundry but got a recorded message which promised to return their call. They received no returned call. Their anxiety persisted, but they remained hopeful to have the bell installed and ringing by the annual meeting scheduled for June 6, 1976.
Feeling they were getting the runaround, one of the officers visited the Foundry in April. The visit did not have a very good outcome - the bell had not even been started! There indeed was a problem, as some of the officers feared. The problem was one of the key members of McShane’s Co. had been ill for some time and eventually died. This left the company in a somewhat disorderly state. To make matters worse, it was 1976 and there were US Bicentennial events being planned all over the Country. Lots and lots of bells were either being ordered or repaired in time for the July 4 celebration. McShane’s, however, promised them something in about 2 weeks.
In May, a second visit was made to McShane’s at the Foundry’s request. This time the visit had a different outcome - the bell was made! A delivery date of May 11 to May 14 was set. The bell was finally installed.
And so it was. The “George L. Radcliffe Memorial Bell” was rung on June 6, 1976 at the service of the Grace Foundation annual meeting, much to the delight and relief of the officers. The bell was blessed on July 18, 1976 by Rev. James Valliant at a special service.
The bell still hangs in the steeple of this little church on Taylors Island. It is a testament to the persistence and devotion of not only the members of the Church and the local residents, but also to the ancestors of the island who laid the foundation and cornerstone of the Church and its tower built without a bell.