News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

December 25, 2013

Church bell tolls no more

Bell cast in 1855 reduced to a pile of melted metal by fire

PRAIRIE CREEK — For more than a century, a bell rang to signal the faithful that it was time for church in a small southern Vigo County town.  

But when a late night blaze ravaged Prairie Creek First Baptist Church on Dec. 5 — amid a snow storm and ice-covered roads — the same church bell melted and fell into the basement level, like much of the burning building.

The church bell was in the steeple, on the south end of the church, and “the steeple was the last thing to fall,” Pastor Kevin Dobson told the Tribune-Star the morning after the fire.

The bell was cast in 1855, more than 20 years before the church was constructed in 1876.

“The fire was just so hot,” it melted the bell, Dobson said.

But a portion of the bell remains and is currently in one lifelong congregation member’s house.

At his property in Prairie Creek, Dan Watson on Christmas Day examined what remains of the “massive” church bell.

Watson was unsure of the weight of the bell but he said even just what remains of it is very heavy. He estimated the bell to be about 36 inches tall.

The bell, which Watson thought might be made of alloys, was retrieved from the church basement by congregation members as they dug through the ashes after the fire.  

It was — and is — an important part of the church.

“Lots of kids have been lifted into the air by the weight of that bell over the years,” Pastor Dobson said.

Watson, who has attended the church for more than 60 years, “since I was born,” has fond memories.

“It’s [the bell] been used all my life,” he said. “When I was a little kid, we rang it.”

There was a big rope that kids pulled to ring the bell, said Watson, who remembers having to “grab on tight” when the bell lifted him up.

So he rang the bell “every chance I got.”

“It was fun.”

When some congregation members took what remains of the bell to Watson’s home after the fire, he barely recognized it as part of his childhood.

“I didn’t see it. I didn’t know there was a bell there because it didn’t look like a bell,” Watson said.

“I was hoping we [would] find it intact,” he added.

When the fire took place, construction was under way to add on to the 137-year-old church.

The congregation, which consists of about 80 people, now gathers at the community center in Prairie Creek.

Despite an offer from a church in Prairieton to use its building, the congregation decided to stay in town.

“We’re a community church. Our folks really just wanted to stay in Prairie Creek,” Dobson said.

The church had insurance to replace the old portion that was destroyed, but the insurance will not provide enough money to pay for much of the interior. Neither will it pay for a new bell.

But the community is determined to rebuild the church and replace the bell.

And it has received help from an unexpected source this Christmas.

A young girl who now lives out of state sent a dollar to help replace the church. Dobson, also a counselor, worked with the girl in the past.

“She sent me a dollar. That’s really what [Christmas] is all about,” Dobson said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or Reporter Arthur Foulkes contributed to this report.


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