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Peasley: This story rings a bell

It remains a mystery. Where is the bell that hung for so long in the tower at the First United Methodist Church?

The bell was donated to the church by Mrs. Betsy Stone in 1988. It crashed to the ground Feb. 4, 1923, when the church on South Street was destroyed by a late-night fire. The bell was sold for $65 soon after the fire to help build a new church in 1924.

The Methodist Church was established in Woodstock in 1850. Congregation members first met in the local schoolhouse. They then met in Excelsior Hall on the southeast corner of the Square, then for two years in Phoenix Hall on the south side of the Square, east of Dean Street. The congregation then met on Jefferson Street until the church was built for $8,000 in 1870 at the present South and Throop streets location.

Members are motivated to display the treasured missing bell at the church in part because displaying old bells is a Woodstock “tradition.”

The Rev. James F. Clancy was pastor at St. Mary’s when a bell was purchased from the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore in 1868. That bell hung in the old church on Lincoln Avenue where the grade school building is today.

When the church was torn down in March 1916, the bell was put in storage, to appear by the front door during Monsignor Al Harte’s tenure as pastor, 1989 to 1997. When the St. Joseph addition was built in 2000, the bell was placed in a garden near the gymnasium, grade school and church.

For many years the original Presbyterian church bell was in the garden of Charles Wright’s home on West South Street. Several years ago, church officials acquired the bell and placed it by the front entrance on East Calhoun Street. It is now at the new church on Route 47.

St. John’s Lutheran Church moved from Jefferson and East Calhoun streets in 1963 to Route 47 and St. John’s Road and placed its bell by the front entrance. The church obtained that bell in 1914 from Hy Stucksted Bell Foundry, St. Louis.

One of Woodstock’s most beautiful sounds filled the air with the playing of chimes when Grace Lutheran Church was located at Washington and Tryon streets. The carillon was given to the church by Minnie Heider in 1940. When the church moved to a new location near Kishwaukee Valley Road, it moved the chimes to the new building.

The Woodstock Opera House has restored the bell that hung in the Opera House bell tower for years.

• Don Peasley has been an editor, columnist and historian in McHenry County since 1947. He began association with Shaw Publications in 1950. He is a frequent contributor of articles and photographs. He can be reached at 815-338-1533.

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