Tower Chime

Mary Park Nutt Memorial Tower Chime

A unique part of the rich music heritage of First Church is its Vanduzen & Tift Company memorial Tower Chime; calling the faithful to worship with its melodic voice for over 114 years. A generous $5000 donation in 1893 to First Church made the inclusion of this magnificent instrument possible in the “new building’s” majestic 118-foot high bell tower.  The Tower Chime was dedicated on June 28, 1894 to Mary Park Nutt; just 5 weeks after the inauguration of the magnificent Victorian church building, the 10th in First Church’s history.

The 15 bells of the chime are manually played from a mahogany and brass “plow handle” Clavier (keyboard) located one story above the main front entrance to the church. The smallest bell (high g) weighs a modest 300 pounds, and the largest (low C) weighs an imposing 5,600 pounds (2.8 tons).  10 of the tower’s 15 bells have a slightly longer history: the Vanduzen Company of Cincinnati had crafted 10 bells (in a C major scale – from C to e) for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Housed in the tower of Machinery Hall at the Fair, the award-winning bells needed a new home after the Fair was to close in October.

Vanduzen agreed to sell the bells to First Church in July of 1893. After the Fair closed, they returned to Cincinnati where the Tift Company cast 5 additional bells in 1894, (3 chromatic pitches and two upper bells) to extend the range to 1-1/2 octaves. Shortly after the Chime’s centennial, a thorough restoration of the bell playing system and further reinforcement of the bells’ oak support frame (through steel I-beams in the tower) was executed. The rededication of the restored chime took place in September 1998. Each Sunday before the 10 AM (or in the summer 9 AM) service and other special services- the Tower Chime is played live by a dedicated group of volunteer solo ringers, who can only hear the bells at the mechanical playing console through a small microphone amplifying the bells into the playing space.

Although a substantial amount of tower chimes were once found in bell towers across the United States, few extant (and functional) chimes are still playable solely from their original playing mechanism, not having their original grandeur diminished to either a small electronic keyboard to play the bells- or a completely automated system without the human touch.

A detailed description of the chime at the Columbian Exposition and the subsequent sale to First Church is recounted in the book: “Musical Instruments at the World’s Columbian Exposition”.

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