Hardwick Academy Bell Maker has Long, Distinguished History

by Patrick Hussey

HARDWICK – The Hardwick Academy bell, which measures 24 inches in diameter, was manufactured by the Meneely company of West Troy, N.Y., a town now known as Watervliet. The date on the Academy bell is 1868. The bell is installed in Memorial Park.

Andrew Meneely (1802-1851) was one of the greatest bell makers in American history and founder of the world-class Meneely Bell Foundry in West Troy, N.Y. More than 65,000 bells under the Meneely brand were cast between 1826 and 1952, when the business closed. The Meneely bells are revered for their rich tones and exceptional quality and were distributed throughout the world.

Meneely was a silversmith by training, an alchemist who mastered the mix of copper and tin to produce bells of elemental beauty and exceptional functionality.

Meneely was born in Watervliet and, at age 15, left school to become an apprentice for Julius Hanks, whose father worked with Paul Revere. Meneely went into business with a son of Hanks, Horatio Hanks, and they moved to Cayuga County in 1823 to operate a foundry that supplied equipment to the engineers of the Erie Canal.

Three years later, after the canal was completed, Meneely returned to Watervliet to run a Hanks foundry there which produced bells, clocks and engineering equipment. Meneely married his mentor’s niece, Philena Hanks, and they had three children.

By 1836, Meneely put his name on the foundry and Meneely and Company became one of the largest and most acclaimed bell foundries in the country. Soon its reputation spread internationally. Meneely bells were loaded onto barges and ships on the Hudson River near the foundry and were sent around the world.

Meneely died on Oct 14, 1851, in Troy at the age of 49. The bell casting business continued with Meneely’s sons, Edwin and George. When a third brother, Clinton Hanks Meneely, returned from serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, his brothers did not invite him to join the family business. He started a competitor, the Clinton H. Meneely Foundry of Troy.

His brothers fought in court to deny him using the family name, but lost their case. The rival foundries continued in Watervliet and Troy and together they churned out nearly half the bells commissioned each year across the country.

Wikipedia lists five Vermont sites that have Meneely bells: the Berlin Congregational Church in Berlin Center, the Wilder Center in Wilder, St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Rutland, Brattleboro Union High School and the Williston Town Hall. However, there are others.

Some quick research discovered there are quite a number of Meneely’s bells throughout Vermont. The Unitarian Church in Burlington is one such site. The Unitarian Church had a Paul Revere-made bell that cracked in 1828 after some vigorous ringing. It was recast, but it was ultimately replaced in 1928 with a Meneely bell.

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, has a tower that holds a chime of eight bells, cast in 1895 by the Meneely Bell Company. Cast for the old St. Paul’s church, after the 1971 fire, they were refurbished and rehung in the new building. A ninth bell was cracked in the fire and is now near the main entrance at the base of the bell tower.

The Manchester Congregational Church has a five-foot Meneely bell dated 1871, a gift from Mark Skinner as inscribed on the bell. On the back of that bell is also inscribed “Sabbata Pango, Funera Plango, Solemnia Clango, which loosely translates “I ring on the Sabbath, I toll for funerals, I sound for solemn services.”

The Randolph Center Church had a span of 19 years in the 1800s during which four of their bells cracked, including a Paul Revere-made bell, rendering them useless. In 1849, they purchased a Meneely bell and it’s still ringing today, living up to Meneely’s promise that it has “a tone to please.”

Maybe Hardwick Academy’s Meneely bell, which because of mechanical limitations currently cannot be rung, can sound its “tone to please” again in the near future.