The Bells: We Can Fill Southampton with the Sound of Bells

Southampton’s First Prebyterian Church
Southampton’s First Prebyterian Church, Photo: Barbara Lassen

A few years ago, the Presbyterian Church of Southampton automated the beautiful bells that sound in their church belfry. As a result, the bells now sound once an hour, every hour, every day, cheerfully stating the time that is also visible on the hands of the clock that are up there on the church steeple. Prior to the automation, the ringing was more sporadic. It operated on a spring mechanism that sometimes got out of whack. So on occasion, there would be no bells until Travis Corwin at Corwin Jewelers, a member of the congregation and a fixer of clocks, would climb the interior ladder to fix what was wrong.

If the Presbyterian Church now fills the southern end of Main Street with beautiful song, the United Methodist Church of Southampton does the same thing—beginning last year—at the northern end of Main Street, although just on Sundays, and just on occasion. A great 3,500-pound bell is up in the belfry of that church. Built around 1901, it filled this town with the joyful sound of music until the Hurricane of 1938 caused damage to it, deterioration set in and, about 20 years ago, parishioners felt it was too dangerous to continue to use it.

The parishioners declared the bell broken. But then, last year, two men went up there and, with a block and tackle, a hydraulic jack and some hardwood, lifted the bell, replaced a cracked wooden harness that had jammed things up, and now it works. It’s been sounding on Sundays at the pull of the rope from the room in the belfry just below the bell chamber. Some Sundays they do it, some they don’t. But there it is.

Neither of these church bells can be heard down at Monument Square, however, which, down on Lake Agawam, provides the third point of a kind of triangle downtown.

Then, this past spring, Mayor Epley of Southampton Village, together with others, proposed to put a clock tower in Agawam Park, just 50 feet from Monument Square. Many years ago, a former slave named Pyrrhus Concer lived in a little house on Pond Lane overlooking Agawam Park. The Mayor decided he wanted to save that little house. And he also wanted to re-create the little business that Concer ran during the last half of his life. In the summertime, Concer would ferry beachgoers across Lake Agawam from the park to a landing down near the Southampton Bathing Association two miles away for a small fee. The Mayor, together with Nick Palumbo and others, created a ferry company for the effort and obtained a small boat that could be used for that purpose. And they put it into service for the first time, operated by the Village Marine Department, two summers ago. For this past summer, they ran the service from a wooden dock the Village built at the headwaters of the lake where it abuts the park. Just across the street is where Concer lived. The Village was re-creating history to honor Concer. And then the proposal was made to put a tower with a clock down by the dock. I think it got postponed for another time.

It seems to me that such a clock would be very appropriate for a ferry landing. It would show the time. And, in my opinion, it also presents an opportunity for the village to provide a third place to fill the air with beautiful musical bells. The bells could be atop the clock.

One could walk around downtown in the summertime and almost anywhere hear the cheerful sounds of music as this beautiful village celebrates its heritage.

Five years ago, this would not have been possible. Now, at relatively small cost, it is.

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