Chimes go silent as large crane removes tower from Shamokin church
SHAMOKIN - When Sunday service was to begin at St. John's United Church of Christ, chimes housed in a wood-framed tower atop the church were played by the organist.
They were played again at the end, too, during the silent prayer - usually the final stanza of the last hymn sung by the congregation.
The sound was gentle, at times poignant, and for many it was synonymous with Sunday morning.
Old age and rough weather had taken its toll on the chime tower. It was still used on and off in recent years, but safety concerns led to its removal Tuesday, silencing it for good.
The wood frame was dry-rotted and leaning slightly. Pieces crumbled apart as it was removed. Its integrity was in serious question and its repair or replacement beyond the means of the congregation. Instead of risking an accident, church leaders made a pained decision to bring it down.
"I was really upset when they first told us about the damage to the chime tower," said Edward V. Twiggar II, a church elder.
He once lived a few doors away from the church, the chimes a familiar sound.
"Every Sunday morning you used to hear the chimes ... and of course through the holiday season," Twiggar said.
The red brick structure that is St. John's United Church of Christ at 117 N. Eighth St. was dedicated in 1893. A growing congregation under the Rev. Charles B. Schneder necessitated the replacement of the church's former home, which was a smaller wooden structure at the same site, according to Cheryl Sherman, church secretary since 1979.
A carillon chime tower was purchased from J.C. Deagan Co. Construction began March 28, 1927. Turnaround was quick as it was dedicated on Palm Sunday in April 1927, Sherman said, citing notes she put together on the chimes tower's history.
It resembled a bird cage, and no doubt served that purpose too. The roof and supports were covered in copper. Inside were 16-tone tubular bell chimes, operated using a special keyboard installed indoors at the organ.
Apart from Sundays and holidays, Sherman said hymns were played daily at noon and 6 p.m. for a time by way of a timer and electronic device.
Neither Sherman nor Twiggar were sure when it was last used, but both said it hadn't been very long since the chimes rung.
"It had such a special sound. There was nothing quite like it," Sherman said.
She was saddened by their removal, too, snapping countless photos Tuesday as a five-man crew from Zartman Construction worked carefully to take it down in portions.
A crane set up on North Grant Street stretched about 165 feet to lift the roof and frame separately from the 120-year-old church. The large crane, rated for 160 tons, was situated on backfill where a home once stood. Much care was taken to ensure the crane was safe where it sat and would not shift, said Kelly Showers, project manager/estimator.
The roof of the tower weighed approximately 3,100 pounds, he said, less than the 4,000 pounds they calculated for.
A crew will be on site today to patch the church roof. Portions of Grant Street and Eighth Street were closed to traffic much of Tuesday and parking was restricted. Grant Street will again be closed temporarily today while the crane is removed. It took two flat bed tractor-trailers to get it there, Showers said.
Sherman said she understood why the tower was removed. Safety was a concern. Still, it will be an odd sight atop the church.
"When you come up Eighth Street, something's going to be missing. When you come up Arch Street, something's going to be missing," she said.
The church's property committee will decide the fate of the brass chimes. "Unfortunately," Twiggar said, "that may mean monetizing it as scrap metal."