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
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.
The bell now hangs in the top chamber of the
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.)
1888 Meneely Bell
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
(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."
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
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.
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!
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:
WHEN YOU REJOICE, I AM JOYFUL,
WHEN YOU MOURN, I AM SAD.