134-year-old train bell at home in steeple in Hamburg church - The Buffalo News
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134-year-old train bell at home in steeple in Hamburg church

When the old steeple at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hamburg had to come down last year, parishioners knew they wanted the new one to have a belfry.

And it happened that one longtime parishioner, Gretchen Zollendeck, had a 134-year-old bell to place in it.

Friday morning, crews erected the new steeple, with the old bell, atop the church on East Main Street within a couple hours.

The 1,700-pound steeple has a 4-foot cross on its top, making the entire steeple 30 feet tall. It rises 60 feet above the ground, and is made of aircraft-grade aluminium, said the church rector, the Rev. Blane Frederik. It was constructed by Campbellsville Industries of Kentucky and erected by Ingersoll Construction.

The bell has a rope attached to it, and will have an electronic strike installed so it can toll on the hour during the day.

While the steeple has architectural highlights of its predecessor, it is a far cry from the old bell-less steeple that was made with wood and covered in lead. That steeple, which had been erected when the stone church was built in 1955, was removed in January 2013 when water started leaking into the church’s walkway.

“Water had been infiltrating for some time,” Frederik said. “The wood had rotted.”

He said it was a sad day when the steeple came down, but that day is all but forgotten with the installation of the new steeple.

The steeple is named for longtime parishioner Vera Kaiser, a lifelong Hamburg resident who was active in the church. She died in 2011, just shy of her 95th birthday. Frederik said she made a bequest to the church that was placed in its endowment fund.

Parishioners raised the $20,000 needed for the steeple, but the bell was free.

After the church decided it wanted a bell, Zollendeck talked to Frederik one day at coffee.

“She looked at me and said, ‘I have a bell,’ ” Frederik recalled.

Zollendeck’s father, Geert Beling, had been a train enthusiast and bought the bell, which had been on a steam engine, at a scrap auction in the early 1950s. The bronze bell was cast in 1880, 12 years before Trinity Church was established. “They were tearing apart steam engines at that point,” Zollendeck said.

Her father mounted the bell on a stone stand on the family’s property in Waukesha, Wisc. “We rang it for calling people to dinner,” Zollendeck recalled. “We just had fun ringing it all the time.”

After her parents died, the bell came to Western New York, where it sat in Zollendeck’s garage in Orchard Park. Frederik said he went to see the bell and she opened her garage.

“There inside was this beautiful bell that had been rescued from a locomotive,” he said. “For our little country church, it’s just the right size and right sound.”

Zollendeck is pleased to know her family’s bell will be put to good use. “My dad would think this was a lark,” she said. “It has a nice home now. Everyone in my church family can enjoy it for years to come. My family can hear it. I can hear it. It’s exciting.”

The Beling Memorial Bell, named in honor of Zollendeck’s parents, Geert and Jane, will toll at the funeral of longtime parishioner Jane F. Cannizzaro this morning, a first in the history of Trinity Episcopal Church.

email: bobrien@buffnews.com

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