First Wayne Street’s bell tower is a landmark in its own right. Even if you’ve never been to First Wayne Street United Methodist Church, if you’ve spent time in downtown Fort Wayne, you are most likely familiar with the sight – and perhaps also the sound – of our majestic bell tower.
Most of us who listen to and love the sound of the bells are unaware of the incredible amount of skill involved in manufacturing and tuning a peal of bells. Only virgin metal, a bronze alloy of copper and tin, can be used to produce fine tonal quality. The bell founder relies on the intricacies of the profile of each bell to provide its timbre and sound quality. This profile, never completely revealed by the bell founder, is the design of the bell: the thickness of its wall, the manner in which the flange is turned, and the way the sides flare. Once the bell is cast, it must be fine-tuned. As with piano tuning, bells must be tuned by a skilled technician who relies on his own ear, tuning the bells by cutting pieces out of the inside at various locations or by minimal grinding of an inside wall. Since their tonal qualities are interdependent, bells must also be tuned in relation to each other. A peal of bells that is carefully designed and tuned in this manner will remain in tune for centuries if it’s not overly exposed to the elements.
The connoisseur of bells, when listening to them, judges them not only for their intonation, but also for their qualities of clarity, brilliance, mellowness, tonal warmth, subtlety, depth of resonance, and duration of ring, with special attention to the extremities of range.
First Wayne Street’s Cross Carillon Bell Tower is located at the entrance to our sanctuary, and houses four bronze bells. These four bells were cast by the Petit and Fritsen Bell Foundry in Aarie-Rixtel, Holland, and were shipped by them to the I.T. Verdin Company, which checked the tuning of the bells and supervised their installation. The bells were installed in a manner known as “European peal,” which was new to northeastern Indiana in 1972, when the bells were dedicated. Combined, the four bells weigh 2,280 pounds. Agnes and Richard Allen donated the bells to First Wayne Street to the glory of God and in memory of each of their four beloved parents.
The Carillon is programmed with three distinct peal patterns: 1) a peal announcing specific hours of the day; 2) a joyous peal used on Easter, for special celebrations and for weddings; and 3) a solemn peal that is used at funerals. Each of the bells is engraved not only with the name of the parent it honors, but also with a quote from a poem.
The largest bell
The largest bell (also called the Bourden bell), weighing 1000 pounds and having a pitch of A above middle C, was given in memory of Ward Malcolm Allen (1883-1965). It is engraved with a quotation from “Bells of San Bias,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which expresses the spirit in which the Allens gave the bells: not to play melodies, but to ring out for all of Fort Wayne to hear and be inspired by the strength, courage, endurance and dedication of Christ’s church.
For bells are the voice of the church:
They have tones that touch and search
the hearts of young and old;
One sound to all, yet each
lends a meaning to their search,
and the meaning is manifold.”
The second bell
The second largest bell, which weighs 583 pounds and has the pitch of C, was given in loving memory of Fanny Fern Allen (1881-1969). Its inscription is from the hymn “Built on the Rock,” by Nicolai Grundtvig:
Grant, then O God, where’er men roam
that, when the church bells are ringing,
many in saving faith may come
where Christ his message is bringing:
‘I know my own, mine own know me;
ye, not the world, my face shall see,
my peace I leave with you.’”
The third bell
The bell third in size, weighing 407 pounds and with a pitch of D, was given in memory of John V. Sonningsen (1882-1956). Its inscription is from “In Memoriam” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a poem which describes the author’s journey through years of unbelief and ultimate arrival at triumphant certainty:
Ring out the darkness
of the Land,
ring in the Christ
that is to be.”
The smallest bell
The smallest bell, which is 290 pounds with the pitch of E, is dedicated to the memory of Meda Ellen Sonnigsen, and carries these lines:
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Praise Him, O resounding bells.”
The members of the congregation, when listening to the bells, will remember the generosity of the donors, the proud history of their church, and the possibility of years of accomplishment ahead. And it remains the hope of First Wayne Street that all of Fort Wayne, when listening to the bells, will be reminded of our belief in the unity of humanity through God, and will accept our invitation to join us in that belief.