Return of the Renner Church Bell
In 1898, a newly built Methodist Church, complete with tower and bell, was dedicated in the little railroad town of Renner, Texas. In typical Methodist fashion, the small church was pastored by Circuit Riders who also ministered to other congregations in Addison, Richardson, and Murphy area churches. But in 1957, due in part to an aging and shrinking membership, the congregation was dissolved, and the building later sold to B. J. Blankenship for commercial use.
In 1985, Mr. Blankenship donated the church to Farmers Branch Historical Park, but by then the bell had gone missing. Everyone thought the bell had been lost to time. It wasn’t. Turns out that the citizens of Renner wanted to keep that bell in the community, so it had been placed on a stand outside the Renner Baptist Church. Then in 2012, Preston Highlands Baptist Church of Richardson, formally Renner Baptist Church contacted the Historical Park about returning the bell to its original home in the Old Church, and the task of repairing and reinstalling the bell was awarded to Historic Preservationist Ron Siebler.
Getting the bell back to its original perch turned out to be two separate projects. Not only did the bell require work, a structural inspection of the church belfry revealed that the building was no longer capable of supporting the weight of the bell. That finding required a complete retrofit of the support columns, tower framing, and the bell platform.
The 34" diameter, 600 lb bell was also restored. Made by the Ross Meehan Foundry of Chattanooga, TN, the steel bell most likely was cast in the late 1890's, about the same time the church was being built. While the bell itself was intact, time and the elements had not been kind to its components. The tolling mechanism was missing, one stanchion was cracked, bearings were rusted, the clapper spring needed new pads, the rope wheel was missing three metal spokes, and the wood pulley for the bell rope had completely deteriorated.
Using the tools and techniques of both metal worker and wheelwright, Siebler fabricated new metal spokes, crafted and attached a new wood felloe for the rope pulley, cleaned and painted all the component parts, located a replacement toller, and reassembled the entire mechanism in preparation of putting it back into the church tower.
Then, on a cold but beautiful sunny day in January, 2015, Siebler and his crew gently lifted, and gracefully returned the fully restored bell back to its historic role as the center of its new community. Almost 60 years after it last called parishioners to worship, the bell that once was the heart of Renner, Texas had finally come back to the heart of the building that was its very first home.