Tower bell returns to Summerville annex

Stan Christoph, president of Christoph Paccard Bellfoundries of Charleston, guides the bell and frame into the tower in the new Summerville Town Hall annex Monday.

SUMMERVILLE — The bell that went up in Summerville's town center this week is a milestone of progress and a reminder of the past.

It's also got a special ring that will give Summerville residents something to brag about when talking to Charlestonians.

The bell went up Monday, but electricians were still hooking up the wiring Wednesday.

The bell tops an annex made necessary by the town's rapid growth over the last decade. For example, a much bigger auditorium will relieve overcrowding at council meetings, and there's a room with a TV monitor for overflow crowds.

The bell restores a tradition. The old bell announced the opening and closing of business hours, lunch breaks and fire alarms.

The town got it in 1893 from The Arsenal, formerly known as Porter Military Academy of Charleston, according to a history provided by the town. The bell was lost when the wood town hall was torn down 40 years ago. Now it's back on the grounds of Porter-Gaud School.

"I grew up on Richardson Avenue (across from Town Hall), so I was very familiar with that bell," Summerville Preservation Society President Heyward Hutson said. "I think it brings back a really wonderful tradition."

He added that he's not sure about the rest of the annex, especially the new parking garage, which he fears could overshadow the old town hall.

"We will have to wait and see how it all looks after it's completed to determine if it brings back that traditional feel," Hutson said. "I think the bell tower will, for sure."

Town officials are putting a positive spin on it.

"This new bell tower captures the essence of the original tower and carries forward the vision of Summerville's founding fathers," Town Administrator Dennis Pieper said.

Commercial Realtor Robert Pratt, who grew up in Summerville and went to school a few blocks up Main Street, said he's glad to see it. He remembers the bell and a museum that displayed snakeskins.

"It kind of keeps you in touch with your past," Pratt said. "I think the bell will be a wonderful reminder."

The new bell was tuned to blend with nearby church bells, said Stan Christoph, president of Christoph Paccard Bellfoundries of Charleston, which installed it.

The bell is tuned to the D above middle C. The bells at nearby St. John the Beloved Catholic Church are tuned to C, E and G, and the bell at St. Luke's Lutheran Church is tuned to A, Christoph said.

"On special occasions when they all ring their bells, it will be a stunning occasion, in musical harmony with each other," he said. "It will be an unbelievably beautiful sound."

The bells in downtown Charleston are "gorgeous when they all ring, but it's more of an eclectic sound," he said. "In Summerville, there's this unique situation."

Reach Dave Munday at 745-5862 or dmunday@postandcourier.com.