Monthly Archives: May 2015

Lowell’s Not So Famous Bell

Paul Revere served primarily as a Silversmith. He made beautiful silver dinnerware for the wealthy of Boston and its environs. What people do not know is that he also had a foundry and in this manufacturing plant, he made, among other things, bells for churches and town halls. After his death his son took over the foundry and continued to make bells. In the 1820’s, a Baptist Church was located approximately across from the Dunkin Donuts on Middlesex Street in what was then East Chelmsford. The neighborhood was “hot” partially because of the fact that it bordered the Middlesex Canal. Here tourists, including the Thoreau brothers of Concord, could float up the canal to the Merrimack River and enjoy the quiet and the scenery. Many, many people came to visit East Chelmsford, and that new experiment downriver called Lowell, in the 1820’s.

When the Baptist Church was constructed they wanted the foremost foundry in the United States to make the bell which was going to call citizens of that faith to church. They went with the Revere Foundry and the Revere family to make the bell. It was a large bell, and probably floated up here on the Middlesex Canal. It was installed in the steeple, no small feat at the time. There were no cranes as there are today, and they had to install the bell with saws and hammers, bolts and buckets. When it was constructed into the steeple of the church it could be heard all over the area. How do I know that it could be heard? Because it is still ringing and is heard on Sundays in its current location.

Lowell has one of the best kept secrets hidden in Pawtucketville. It has that original Paul Revere bell in the Congregational Church across from McDonald’s on Mammoth Road at the church that fills its yard with pumpkins every October. How it got there is the story.

It sometimes happens, an old building of a historic nature burns to the ground inexpicably. That is what happened to the Baptist Church on Middlesex Street, which sat on the ground across from Wendy’s, where Wendy’s is now. The steeple caught on fire and the heavy bell, set and made in the Revere Foundry, which was known as Bell #15, crashed to the ground. The church, beset with debt from the fire, sold the Revere bell to the Congregational Church on the corner of Mammoth Road and the now called VFW Highway. Then, it was known as the Pawtucket Boulevard. The Congregational Church bought the bell, and in a parade-like procession, moved it to the spot where their new steeple was being made. Along the route, word came that John Brown was executed and one of the people walking with the bell rung it in John Brown’s memory.

When it crossed the bridge, it was strapped to a massive crane that was anchored in the dirt. Then, working together, a team of men and horses lifted the bell into place on the steeple. They rang it, supposedly as a test, but probably to say they rang the Paul Revere bell. It is still heard throughout Pawtucketville and the Acre across the river on any given Sunday.

At the Lowell Motor Boat Club, we can see the church clearly across the water. Its image reflects in the water. Photos of the bell are not so easily dispensed. One of our members got to see the bell when he went to the church for “Open Doors” Lowell Day. He was kind enough to take some pictures and verified that the bell was cast in the Revere Foundry, and that it was the fifteenth bell cast out of 100. At least, I believe that is what he told me. He got the information from the Pastor or Curator or someone in the church.

I would not recommend that you insist on seeing the bell. It is very hard to get to, and fraught with difficulties. In addition, it is not really in a well-traveled area. The stairs and ladder to get to it are dangerous and the church does not want to see a crowd of people just looking for a glimpse at Lowell’s second most famous bell (in my opinion, the most famous bell is in the Boott Mills). Just be satisfied knowing that it exists and is well-cared for.

I was having dinner at La Boniche when it was on Gorham Street in the old Nickie’s Bar, which is famous as a Kerouac hang-out. My brother-in-law, the famous one, was being told history stories by yours truly when he asked how many bells there were in Lowell. I did not have the answer to that one, so he called City Manager Brian Martin the next day and asked him to ascertain how many bells there were still in their cradles. The answer, Brian told me, was twenty-two. This is a story about one of them. It is a good story. Do not forget to tell your children and grandchildren about Lowell’s famous bell. They will be fascinated.

A Brief Synopsis of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s Decision to Grow a Beard

The Civil War is a difficult topic because there is so much history to it. Many of the park lands have been saved over the century plus that the war was fought. Jim Lighthizer is the President of the Civil War Preservation Trust, which has saved thousands of acres of prime battle site real estate and is vying with Wal Mart to save part of the area where the Battle of the Wilderness was fought. The Battle of the Wilderness was the site of some of the most costly and ferocious fighting of the war. Grant literally sent thousands of men to their deaths in his handling of the battle, but without Grant, there would have been no satisfactory end of the war. Thousands died so that many more thousands could live. Grant did not have the love of his men that his subordinate, William Tecumseh Sherman, had. He was not as well loved but he did have one thing in common with Mr. Lincoln. Both felt that large losses may be necessary in order to save the Union. Grant wanted to save the Union. He had the rank of Lieutenant General, a position previously only held by George Washington. As such, he served the President of the United States directly, and that President was Abraham Lincoln.

The Battle of the Wilderness, begun in the summer of 1864, was a bloodbath. Sherman was active in the Battle of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and would continue with his 100,000 men, the move up from Atlanta towards Richmond, Virginia. Grant was mired in the forests outside of Richmond. The goal of the northern army was the capture of St. Petersburg and Richmond. Soon, the goal of occupying Richmond, whose citizens were literally eating cooked rats to survive, was acheived. Richmond was a proud city and the woman of the city literally came up with recipes for cooking rats. They apparently published the recipes in a book.

Surrender of the city was caused by Grant’s movement around the city and attack on the city. Lincoln was so pleased by the surrender of Richmond, that he boarded a boat and floated to Richmond, where, taking his life into his own hands, he toured the city without guards. He even walked the Richmond Common. However, Richmond was not the site of the final victory and the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, and his Congress moved south to Petersburg.

The Wilderness saw Grant moving 102,000 men with great difficulty through the forest. “In two days fierce fighting, he lost 17,700 men.” He tried to outflank the enemy, but was unsuccessful, suffering catastrophic losses. At Spotsylvania, he took on Lee’s main force and the fighting was fierce. The two armies threw up field entrenchments, and fought for five days. Neither fully succeeded. Lee lost fewer men. Later, came the Battle of Cold Harbor, which turned out to be the costliest and most futile battle of the entire war. Eight thousand Union troops were killed but they made virtually no dent in the Confederate positions. The battle line was eight miles long. (Growth of the American Republic by Samuel Eliot Morrison; 1962)

Grants losses numbered between 55,000 and 65,000. Lee only lost 25,000 to 30,000. Clearly, the south had emerged as victor in that fight. The trek to Richmond was not going to be an easy one. But, Grant did not worry about losses. He kept sending in troops who were so sure that they were going to die that they fastened sheets of paper to their backs to identify their corpses. A war of position became the tactic of Grant’s army and he spent nine months flanking Petersburg. He basically ordered a siege of Petersburg.

On July 18, 1864 the President called for half a million more volunteers. (ibid) He had instituted a draft in which a rich man willing to pay $300.00 could have his son spared being drafted. That was a great deal of money at the time and the President knew that he would be largely staffing his army with immigrants from Ireland. The could never afford three hundred dollars. He also started executing deserters, but, due to his gentle nature, often-times released them to their families instead of having them executed. Executions did happen, however. Few were spared by a presidential pardon.

Thus, the Battle of the Wilderness consumed a great deal more time than it was thought it would and much of this was due to the golden nature of Lee. He seemed to be able to get his men fighting for their lives and to their benefit. He did not join up with General Johnston at any point in his retreat. He has often been named as the greatest general in American history. To that, I would just point out that, while brilliant as a tactician, he lost. The North had the means and used them to a satisfactory end.

I stated in the title that I would name the reason that Abraham Lincoln grew a beard. It was as the result of a child’s letter. Letters took time to write but they were the main form of communication during this time in our history. We had no telephones, no emails, no texting. We had letters and Abraham Lincoln received one from a girl in western New York named Grace Bedell. When she was eight, she saw a picture of Lincoln and wrote to his that, if he grew a beard, he would look more presidential. He was clean-shaven at the time. She noticed his sad eyes and wrote to him,

“All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” When Lincoln’s train went through her town, he asked if the little girl who had convinced him to grow a beard was in the audience. She was there with her father. The two of them got to meet the new President, and he got to thank her for asking him to grow a beard. He was one of the few Presidents with facial hair. The last one was Taft, who had a mustache. Taft was pretty roly-poly but he was not the one who got stuck in the White House’s bathtub. That is a tale for another time