History buffs discover bell with connection to Paul Revere

History buffs discover bell with connection to Paul Revere

Local lovers of history found this bell from the Blake Bell Company of Boston when they went exploring at the Oak Grove Cemetery Lodge on Sept. 2. The bell company’s owner was William Blake, an apprentice of Paul Revere.

PAWTUCKET – When local history buffs went searching for evidence of an old bell at Oak Grove Cemetery on Sept. 2, they didn’t expect to find much, but they ended up uncovering quite a prize.

Barbara Zdravesky, president of the Pawtucket Preservation Society, asked local cemetery volunteer Ken Postle to assist her in finding clues about a rumored bell that was supposed to have been housed in the tower of the Oak Grove Cemetery Lodge at one point.

Postle obliged, thinking he might find a vandalized tower or, at best, a small bell that would have to be removed. He said he was stunned when he found himself in a “cavernous attic” looking upward to a sealed hatch door.

After moving a pipe that was blocking the ladder, Postle shoved the hatch back with a pole, getting showered with decades worth of dried leaves and bugs.

“We were thinking it might be like Geraldo with Al Capone’s vault – a bust, because of vandalism or repair, but when I saw the pristine door, I got excited,” Postle told The Breeze. “When all the detritus fell on me, I knew it had been a long time since anyone had poked up there ..”

Postle said he and other searchers “were floored” to see not a tiny bell, but a large bell with a clapper, or gong, that was pulled by a rope. The bell was stationary, but a rope from the gong went through a series of pullies.

Postle said he couldn’t resist reaching up with the stick end of a shovel to ring the bell for the first time in who knows how many years.

“Wicked cool,” he said.

Zdravesky scoured the newspaper archives from 1895 to 1900 and learned that the bell in the lodge was made by the Blake Bell Company of Boston. The company’s owner was William Blake, an apprentice of Paul Revere, the metalworker and industrialist best known for alerting the Colonial militia that the British were coming.

After apprenticing with Revere, Blake established his own company, called William Blake & Co. until about 1890. It was later called the Blake Bell Company, said Zdravesky. She said she doesn’t know the exact year the Oak Grove Bell was made, but assumes it was commissioned when the lodge was built, since there was a dispute about the cost of it in 1896.

The city’s original budget for the bell was $23, but as often happens with a public project, the price tag ended up higher, at $52.50, according to the Sept. 24, 1896, edition of The Providence Journal. There was some dispute about whether the city would actually pay the bill because the cost was higher than expected.

On Aug. 14, 1895, the Joint Standing Committee on City Property authorized the use of $1,800 to erect in Oak Grove Cemetery “a building for the use of the superintendent of the cemetery as a public waiting room,” according to newspaper accounts and City Council journals provided by Zdravesky. Of that sum, $90 was paid to architect Frederick G. Daniels “for services and drawings in the erection of the Oak Grove Cemetery lodge” and $52.50 for a bell in the lodge. The lodge was designed to be one-story with a belfry (where the bell is installed). It was built by Rollings & Co. of Pawtucket for $1,572.

Zdravesky said St. Paul Church on Park Place also has a Paul Revere foundry bell, a bell created around 1800 in Revere’s foundry.

Postle called Sept. 2 an “amazing day of discovery” in the cemetery at the intersection of Cottage Street and Central Avenue. He said the find came as a result of great teamwork between the Pawtucket Preservation Society and the Blackstone Valley Historical Society.

Finding the bell raised so many questions Postle now wants answers on: What was the bell rung for? Funerals? Lodge meetings? Both? When was the last time it was heard? When was the first time it rang?

The wood center of the clapper is really worn at one end, indicating that it mostly struck the bell after being yanked on that side, said Postle. It wasn’t pulled from the middle, but to one side by the pulley system, so the wear is quite visible.

“The bell was rung a lot to make that kind of wear,” he said.

Postle said if the building is fixed up, the bell should be re-roped and used. It is essentially vandal proof, he said, as it would take someone with a cherry picker to tear it off the roof. The sides of the tower that houses the bell could be reopened for all to see the bell, he said. The tower has a metal cap, which preservationists believe holds the bell in place. In a future visit, said Postle, he and others hope to somehow photograph the outside of the bell to see where and when the bell and assembly were manufactured. They would also be able to better analyze any writing on the sides of the bell.

Judging from a 1925 picture of the lodge and the fact that a good-sized man could fit through the hatch, the bell has to be at least a couple of feet tall and the width of a man, he said.

Barbara Zdravesky, of the Pawtucket Preservation Society, climbs into the attic at the Oak Grove Cemetery Lodge in search of the bell.
The Oak Grove Cemetery Lodge as it appeared in 1905. Back then, the bell was clearly visible at the top of the building.
Cemetery volunteer Ken Postle looks up through the hatch after busting it open and discovering the bell.

Comments

I will be interesting to discover what they find. Keep us informed!