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Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Boise church bell was lost, and now it’s found

BOISE, Idaho – The First Baptist Church of Boise, Idaho, turns 150 this year.

The anniversary arrives with a special gift – the return of the church’s original bell from the First Methodist Church after more than 120 years. ...

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BOISE, Idaho – The First Baptist Church of Boise, Idaho, turns 150 this year.

The anniversary arrives with a special gift – the return of the church’s original bell from the First Methodist Church after more than 120 years.

The First Baptist Church, established in Boise in 1864, built its original building at Ninth and Bannock streets. The 600-pound bell, forged in 1873 in Troy, N.Y., hung in the belfry.

When the Baptists moved to 10th and Jefferson in 1892, they bought a 1,200-pound bell. They sold the 600-pound bell to the Methodists.

The two churches had a long-standing relationship. Before building their own church, the Methodists had held services in the Baptist church.

The Methodists occupied various sites in downtown Boise through the decades. They built churches – no longer standing – where the Hoff Building and the YMCA stand today.

When the Methodists built the Cathedral of the Rockies on 11th Street beginning in the 1950s, the bell came along. The congregation set it up in a courtyard garden.

At this point in its history, the old bell became more of a visual attraction than a musical one.

The “bells” that sound from the cathedral’s steeple today are not bells at all, but a recording broadcast from four speakers in the belfry – one aimed in each compass direction.

Though the old bell never hung in the cathedral’s steeple, it earned its share of affection, said Joe Prin, building superintendent for the Cathedral of the Rockies.

As the story goes, couples who got married in the cathedral would return to ring the bell on their anniversaries.

Some insisted that the bell wasn’t in the steeple because someone had incorrectly measured the openings in the belfry, and the bell wouldn’t fit through them.

That’s urban legend, said Prin. Designers of the modern, mid-century classic cathedral always intended their sound system to be modern, as well.

The Cathedral of the Rockies underwent a remodeling in 2004. The church moved the historic bell to its current site near the church’s 11th Street entrance.

The bell will move again in September when the Methodists return it to the Baptists in a special ceremony.

No money will change hands, even though the initial exchange was a monetary one.

“It didn’t feel right to put a price on the bell. It would have always been too much, or too little, in someone’s mind,” Prin said.

“And if the goal of all of this is to bring more people to church, and this bell can help, that’s worth more than anything we could get for it.”

The existence of the bell came to light after First Baptist member Mandy Steinmetz joined the church’s history committee.

She found a church manual from 1901 that mentioned the sale to the Methodists.

“I started wondering, ‘What about this bell?’  ” Steinmetz said.

She contacted First Methodist to ask whether the church still had it.

“They said, ‘Yep, it’s probably the bell sitting out front right now,’ ” Steinmetz said.

It was a thrill to find the bell, she said, and to be able to tell older church members about it.

First Baptist contacted First Methodist and raised the prospect of buying the bell back.

“Just for fun, just for curiosity,” Steinmetz said.

That’s when the Baptists got the good news that the bell would be a gift.

A First Baptist member who is a contractor will donate the labor to install the bell in the steeple. First Baptist needs to raise about $5,000 for miscellaneous costs, such as making sure the steeple can accommodate the bell and renting a crane to lift it.

The goal is to have the bell in place by November and to ring in Christmas Eve services, Steinmetz said.

The story of the bell includes one mysterious chapter.

Remember the second, 1,200-pound bell the Baptists bought back in the 1890s?

The congregation moved it to the church’s then-new, brick Colonial home on 13th Street in 1947. The bell was at the church, ready to be installed, when someone stole it.

The bell was never found. The mystery persisted. Was it melted down for scrap in the postwar era? Maybe. The thieves were never caught and the First Baptist steeple has been bell-less ever since. This fall’s transfer will change that.

Prin is grateful nothing happened to the bell while the Methodists had it.

To congregants who will mourn its loss, he offers a consolation.

“It’s not really like it’s gone. It will just be a few blocks away,” he said. “We’ll be able to hear it ring.”

First Methodist bell-
moving event: 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Cathedral of the Rockies, 717 N. 11th St. in Boise.

The celebration will include speeches by church leaders, hymns and a prayer before the bell is loaded on a truck for its trip to First Baptist.