History of the MeNeely & Kimberly Bell
Neither the architectural report of 1977 nor that of 1997 gave much information about the courthouse bell. In fact, the 1997 report mistakenly states that the bell "was made in Troy, Iowa, by the Kimberly Bell Works in 1876." The inscription on the bell actually states that the bell was cast by the Meneely and Kimberly Bell Company in Troy, New York, in 1879.
Internet research turned up the draft of a 2002 publication, "The Bell Casters of Troy", by Sydney Ross. This publication contains the chronology of the many companies and intricate familial and apprenticing inter-relationships of the three main bell-casting artisan families: Hanks, Meneely, and Jones. The families operated bell firms in Troy and West Troy from 1808-1952 under a total of fourteen different names, often in strong competition with each other.
The towns of Troy and West Troy lie at the junction of the Erie Canal and the Hudson River in the state of New York. Once served by many railroad lines, they were a major industrial center in the nineteenth century. From 1808-1952, many thousands of bells, peals, chimes and carillons were made and shipped world-wide by the foundries of Troy and West Troy, source of the finest bells in the country.
Colonel Clinton H. Meneely "had knowledge of bell casting and a musical ear," but no share in his older brothers’ E.A. & G.R. Meneely Bell Company. After a distinguished career in the Civil War, Colonel Meneely returned to Troy and founded a new bell company with his brother-in-law, George H. Kimberly. The Meneely & Kimberly Bell Company operated from 1869-1879, after which it became the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company, then, from 1902-1951, the Meneely Bell Company.
Having so many experts named Meneely in the bell-casting business in Troy and West Troy caused a lot of confusion for the public and consternation in the family. In 1871, The Meneely & Kimberly Bell Company was the subject of a lawsuit among the Meneely brothers, known afterward as the "Meneely Trade Mark Case". The case established the legal right of persons to use their own names commercially, even if it conflicted with earlier enterprises using the same name.
The papers of the Meneely & Kimberly Bell Company reside at the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, Burden Ironworks Museum in Troy, N.Y. My email message to P. Thomas Carroll, Executive Director, brought the following response:
"You’ll be happy to know that your bell was cast in the same room, and by the same people, as the so-called "Centennial Bell," the 13,000 pound replacement for the Liberty Bell. This bell was installed in the tower of Independence Hall in Philadelphia just in time to be rung for the first time on July 4th, 1876, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That bell is still there, and it still rings out the hours from its historic perch. Both bells were made at 22 River Street in downtown Troy, in a little building that is no longer there. We have the sign that hung over the door of 22 River Street mounted in an exhibit in our museum, and we have the wooden "sweeps" that were used to cast your bell in our collections.
"Our top volunteer for the history of bells, Jess Brodnax, looked into the Papers of the Meneely Bell Company for you and turned up a "blotter" entry for you. The blotters were the bound notebooks that the firm used to keep track of their orders as they came in. There is also an entry in the master ledger book that the company kept, which was started up sometime in the twentieth century by copying all the blotter entries into it and then keeping track of all the rest of the orders going forward.
"The blotter entry for your bell is dated 26 September 1879 (not 1876, as you state in your email message to me). It reads as follows:
‘26 Seth Thomas Clock Co.
20 Murray St., New York
For 1 Bell 1500 (1495) 21c 315
For Comp. Mtgs 70 less 30% 59 374.00
Shipped to Parke Findley,
(for Davis Co. C.H.)
"The "26" stands for September 26th, 1879. The year and the month are in the margin at the top of the page.
"The buyer was Seth Thomas Clock Co., 20 Murray St., New York City. They bought lots of Meneely bells and then packaged them with their clocks, such as the one you have.
The bell itself was to be a 1500-pound-size bell, which ended up actually weighing 1495 pounds when actually cast. They all varied slightly from the exact design weight for the forms used to make each bell.
"The bell cost $0.21 per pound, for a total of $315 for the 1500 pound bell.
"The order also included "Complete Mountings" for $70 less a discount of 30%, which should have resulted in a cost of $49 but which got entered as $59, probably because of somebody not carrying the right number of digits while doing the multiplication by hand.
"The total cost was thus $315 for the bell plus $59 for the mountings, for a total of $374.00. If you use the federal government’s Consumer Price Index (1967=100) to adjust that number to 2005 dollars, it comes out to $7,557.47. Seth Thomas thus paid more than they should have, including paying $0.21 X 5 = $1.05 for five pounds of bell metal that they didn’t get and paying $10 too much for the mountings. In today’s dollars, that $11.05 overcharge would be $223.29.
"The bell was shipped to a person or a company named Parke Findley, Bloomfield, Iowa, for the Davis County Court House."
"Regarding the restoration of the bell, the final, published version of Sydney Ross’s little bell booklet has a final section on page 22 entitled ‘The Care of Historic Bells,’ which reads in its entirety as follows:
‘The many owners of historic bells made in the Greater Troy area frequently inquire of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway about the best way to care for an old bell. Many of those inquirers harbor one or the other—or both—of two very mistaken notions about these old bells. One, many think that an old bell should be polished back to its original sheen. This is a mistake, known as ‘skinning’ the bell, and it removes the protective [greenish-silvery] patina from the outside surface of the casting. Two, many think that a secret layer of gold or silver was added to the bell to make it ‘sound better,’ and therefore the bell is possessed of much valuable metal that could be retrieved if it were melted down. This is a myth. The bells made in the Greater Troy area were almost always composed of 78 percent copper and 22 percent tin. Occasionally, some rings or buttons or other heirloom items were melted in for sentimental reasons, but never in such quantity that they significantly affected the composition of the bell.
‘The best way to care for an old bell is simply to wash it carefully with mild detergent and a cloth, a sponge, or a very soft brush.’
"The idea is to get the bird droppings and dirt off, but not to harm the raised lettering or the skin or the sound.
The courthouse bell shows off its special protective patina, plus unwanted graffiti and bird droppings, proving it has never been "skinned." (Photo by Harold Leifer).
"If the cast iron mountings are rusted, they can be cleaned with very fine steel wool and mineral spirits (a tedious but ultimately rewarding process), then painted black using a special paint made by DuPont for historic ornamental iron, such as old wrought iron fences. A really good paint supply place can help you get that paint. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the price, lasting forever under very severe conditions. If the wooden parts of the mountings, most notably the wooden wheel if you have one, have rotted, you can get a good carpenter to replace them with new oak replacements. Be sure if you reattach the two uprights on either side of the bell to new mountings on the bottom of the bell to do so very securely. A bell is heavy and dangerous, and those uprights need to be very solidly anchored to prevent swaying or splaying, which could produce catastrophic results. You should oil the two pivots on either side of the bell with light oil now and then.
"Our insurers and our attorney require me to add that neither the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway nor anybody associated with it can take responsibility for any consequences of your attempts to restore or repair the bell. We’re not engineers and we’re not conservators, so you take our advice entirely at your own risk.
"If you have any information about who Parke Findley was, or if you have any photographs of the bell, we’d love to have those additions to our records about your very admirably historic bell. Do please also tell us about any celebrations or dedication ceremonies you stage for the bell."
The published version of Sydney Ross’s booklet is available for $4.00 plus $4.00 shipping and handling, or $8 total, paid in advance by check to Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, 1 E Industrial Pkwy, Troy, NY 12180-5942. Please allow three weeks for delivery.