Joyce McCollaum, a member of the First Baptist Church’s historical committee, stands with Pastor Dave Miller behind the 118-year-old cast-iron bell. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
The First Baptist Church in downtown Roswell is preparing to ring-in Christmas this year by reviving its past.
A cast-iron bell that was first rung in 1895 by the church’s founding members has been restored and is ready to serve again.
A Bible study class at the church started the idea of bringing back the bell, said Joyce McCollaum, a member of the church’s historical committee.
“They started talking about why they hadn’t heard the bell in a long time,” McCollaum said.
After many years of sitting idle, the bell was corroded and had lost its color. With the help of a local handyman, it was scrubbed and restored in time to ring for Christmas after its first debut 118-years ago.
The congregation will meet at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 24 in front of the church to ring the bell. One member from each Bible study group will get a turn, McCollaum said.
The congregation will then walk into the sanctuary for a candlelight service.
The bell first rang at the church’s groundbreaking in 1895.
A letter written by Dr. O.P. Miles to the Roswell Daily Record in 1948 described the history of the church’s beginnings in 1895. The bell was ordered that year.
“We had already ordered a bell, or at least a hardware company had donated one to us, and it soon arrived,” Miles wrote. “Mr. Pelfrey, a contractor, who did the woodwork on the church, had his men haul and put it on the lot and we all took a turn in ringing it.”
Mr. and Mrs. William J. Chisum, who were reportedly the first to be administered a baptism by the Baptist near Roswell at a tank on their ranch, were instrumental in building Baptists’ first stone church.
On Feb. 11, 1895, at the southeast corner of Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a small stone structure was built at the cost of $4,000, according to the letter.
“For this ground breaking ceremony, a few members gathered on the lot, and Mrs. Chisum with a spade removed the first dirt,” Miles wrote. “Thus began the first building owned by the Baptists in Roswell.”
The bell ringing apparently caused a stir and a man passing by asked the group about all the commotion.
“Mrs. Chisum remarked that we wanted the community to know that the Baptists had arrived,” Miles wrote. “One of the newspapers was kind enough to say the Baptists were the first to ring a bell in the community and its tones were an indication of an increasing civilization.”
An Irish stonemason completed work on the building in mid-1895. In less than a decade, the congregation had outgrown it and two lots were purchased at its current site at Fifth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
The newer building was built in a Greek style, with stained glass, but the bell wasn’t installed, McCollaum said. In 1962, the church built an addition with a new sanctuary and a tower with three electronic bells that don’t regularly ring.
The cast-iron bell was recently placed inside the tower, beneath the three bells.
“When they decided to hang the old bell, they rang it one time,” McCollaum said.