A Ringing Endorsement for Preservation!
By Don Rittner

Troy may be the "collar city," but it could easily be called America's "Bell Capital." Troy's bell making business is one of the most amazing stories ever told and we are in danger of loosing the last chapter - the Troy Bell Foundry, on First and Adams.

Imagine four small families, three in Troy and one across the river, all related, and responsible for making over 100,000 bells around the country between 1808 and 1951. Even more remarkable is the fact that many if not most of them are probably still ringing.

Four firms are associated with Troy area bell making and were owned by Julius Hanks, Eber Jones and James Harvey Hitchcock, Clinton Meneely and George H. Kimberley, and Andrew (later Edwin & George) Meneely, who was actually in West Troy (Watervliet).

Julius Hanks had two noted workers, his brother Horatio, and Andrew Meneely. Meneely was related to Julius; he married Horatio's niece Philena. In 1825, Julius started a bell-making foundry on the corner of Fifth Street (Avenue) and Elbow (Fulton), where the Gurley building now stands. Andrew Meneely purchased Hank's West Troy site in 1825 and began his own bell foundry business. His sons Edwin and George took over when Andrew died in 1851.

In 1852, Andrew Meneely's brother in law and foreman James Harvey Hitchcock quit and with the backing of Eber Jones set up the Jones & Hitchcock foundry (Troy Bell foundry) on First and Adams. When Jones died in 1867, his son ran it until it closed in 1887. It's claimed that this foundry cast the first complete chime set in the U.S. in1853, placing it in St. Stephen's Church in Philadelphia. However, Andrew Meneely claimed to be the first, winning a gold medal in a NYC exhibition in 1850, but the bells were apparently never hung nor seen again. The Jones chimes were traded in years ago for an electronic device by the church. A 9-bell chime made by Meneely, perhaps their first hung or at least dated, was made in 1854 for the Trinity Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Only one bell is rung today on a replacement Trinity Cathedral built in 1901-07. The Troy Meneely foundry has the distinction of making the replacement of the cracked independence bell in Philadelphia that to this day hangs in Independence Hall.

All of these foundries eventually went out of business and the buildings themselves swept away by urban renewal and demolition, except for one - the Jones or Troy Bell Foundry on Adams and First.

Last year, a few months before the celebration of Andrew Meneely's 200th birthday, the city approved the demolition of the Jones Bell foundry by an electrical supply company that bought the three buildings on the corner lots.

The Jones & Hitchcock foundry only lasted 35 years but made many memorable bells. Perhaps the last one, cast three months before they dissolved, was for the new City Hall in Troy, and it came tumbling down in the 1938 fire.

The new owners of the foundry and surrounding lots have approval to tear it down and the adjacent cold storage building. However, preservationists did object. Last year the large cold storage building was in danger of falling; a large crack ran down the side of the building, and would have taken the foundry building with it. To the new owner's credit, they hired not a demolition wrecker, but a firm specialized in recycling building materials. They have been removing brick by brick and item by item from the cracked building, so that at the present time, there is no apparent danger of it falling into the foundry.

However, since they have not returned my phone calls or email, I can only fear that the plan to eventually demolish the foundry is still proceeding. It should be turned into a bell museum instead. Would anyone visit? You bet!

Tom Carroll of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway has received hundreds of phone calls, letters, and email from people around the country who have a Troy made bell, or have discovered one in their church, trying to restore one, or obtain more information about one in their area. In fact, Jesse Brodnax, a volunteer of the Gateway, recently transcribed nearly 10,000 bell entries in the Clinton Meneely ledger book, on loan to them by bell historian Joe Connor. The entire ledger book is available for downloading on the Gateway's Web site. They're now working on a West Troy Meneely list.

The Jones Bell foundry is the last remaining example of one of the most important industries of Troy. Thousands of bell owners around the country are restoring, saving, and learning more about them each day. Should we do no less than preserve the very building that made them?