Historic First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin, Florida
View from Scotland St.
Bell History

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History of the 1888 Meneely Bell

by Charles Skinner

The bell in the steeple of Dunedin's First Presbyterian Church was donated in 1888 by Cornelia Elizabeth Skinner Holley, a member of the Presbyterian church in Adams, New York. Mrs. Holley was an aunt of Dunedin pioneer Lee Bronson Skinner, who came to the west coast of Florida from Watertown, Wisconsin in 1883. In all likelihood Mrs. Holley gave her gift in connection with the Dunedin church's relocation in 1888 from Jerry Lake to the corner of Scotland and Highland, four blocks from the waterfront. The bell was cast by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company of Troy, New York, where the widowed Mrs. Holley
Bell Casting in Troy
A Family Affair
made her home with her brother-in-law and sister, Prof. David Maxson and Maria Nancy (Skinner) Greene. The Meneely Bell Company was located at 22, 24 and 26 River Street, a block closer to the Hudson and four blocks South of where Mrs. Holley lived with the Greenes at 41 First Street. Proximity may have helped suggest the idea to donate a bell, but the Clinton H. Meneely Company was one of the leading bellcasters in the United States during the Gilded Age. Anyone wanting to commission a church bell was likely to turn to one of the two Meneely companies in Troy.

The bell weighs nearly a half ton (994 lbs., to be precise), or about two thirds the weight of the original Liberty Bell. It is 27 inches high, not including yoke and frame, and it measures 37 inches in diameter across the base of the bell. It strikes a middle A tone.
1888 Meneely Bell 1888 Meneely Bell
The bell now hangs in the top chamber of the
Andrews Memorial Chapel, Hammock Park, 2001 Andrews Memorial Chapel, Hammock Park, 2001
1926 sanctuary's bell tower, but originally it was hung in the wooden steeple that was built for the 1888 church. This steeple was torn down when the chapel was moved to make way for the new sanctuary and has never been reconstructed. (The 1888 church was sawn in half in October 1970 and moved to Hammock Park, where it has been lovingly restored by the Dunedin Historical Society.)

Getting the bell to Dunedin from Troy must have been quite an adventure in 1888. Mrs. Holley paid cash for bell and "complete mountings" ($350) on May 14, 1888, according to the Meneely account books that have been preserved at the New York State Library in Albany.
Account Book Ledger entry for Mrs. Holley's bell
(In 1888, three hundred fifty dollars would have paid the wages of a minister to a mission church in Florida like Dunedin's for a year.) The Meneely account book notes that the bell was to be "Del[ivere]d at steamer New York" and "sent to Dunedin, Fla." The Orange Belt Railroad, a 117.68 mile track between Sanford and St. Petersburg, had been put into service on January 1, 1888. The Orange Belt linked Dunedin to the rest of the country, and Mrs. Holley may have ridden it when she visited the still unincorporated village. However, steam ship apparently remained the preferred method for transporting a heavy bell from Troy on the Hudson to Dunedin on the Gulf. Hoisting the half-ton bell off the steamer onto a wagon and getting it from the dock at the foot of Oak Street (as Main Street was then called) four blocks
It would be interesting to know the maintenance history of Cornelia's bell. At some point, apparently the "A" frame was replaced. Perhaps the tolling hammer was also lost. In January 1995, the Verdin Company of Cincinnati installed new bearings, an isolator and spring pads and realigned and lubricated the bell. The cost was more than the original price of the bell. Two years later the bell was serviced again, but no adjustments were needed. In 1997, however, Walter Roe of Bell & Clock Technology in Largo turned the bell so it would swing in a true north-south motion. He also remounted the "A" stands to reduce the side motion when the bell swings — all for $590!
inland to the church must have been quite a feat. In those days there were no paved streets, only sandy tracks. The most readily available paving material was pine straw (from the local long-leaf pine) which L. B. Skinner advocated with such passion that roads paved in this fashion were known as "Skinner pikes." Such roads were undoubtedly also advantageous for transporting oranges from the area's groves to railroad or dock, and shipping citrus was L. B. Skinner's first business in Dunedin.

At some point in the 1880s or 90s, Mrs. Holley began wintering in Dunedin, probably in connection with her nephew's decision to settle there. In the fall of 1885, L. B. brought his bride, the former Mary Eleanor Bruce, to Dunedin, after their marriage in Chicago on October 22 of that year. I would like to think the idea for the gift came to Mrs. Holley after she spent the winter in the young community on the Gulf and worshipped in the church at the cemetery. My fantasy is that the 41-year-old widow came to Dunedin in the winter of 1887-88 to help care for her one-year-old grand-niece and namesake, Elizabeth Skinner, who had been born to L. B. and Mary, in January 1887. Thrilled by the young congregation's decision to build a new church and wanting to contribute, she hit upon the idea of commissioning a suitable bell from her neighbors in Troy.

What we know about Cornelia's sentiments regarding her gift , we can only infer from the inscription she chose for the bell:


Dan Meneely's
Meneely Bell Online Museum

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