On a recent sunny day, a crane carefully lowered a new bell tower onto the steeple of the Bristol Hill Church in Volney.
When it was snugly in place, the church had its bell tower back, for the first time in decades.
“We have been very fortunate, very blessed to accomplish this great event that I thought would never happen in my lifetime,” said Pastor Jim Hinman.
The tower cost $30,000. That’s a lot of money for a small church to raise. Half the money came from a grant from the National Parks Services’s Network to Freedom program. It benefits those historic sites with ties to the anti-slavery Underground Railroad movement. The church was a stop on the Underground Railroad. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
The other half of the money came from a long series of fundraisers.
“We did have a little money in the bank and we had to withdraw everything that we could out of every account that we had because we had to pay for it before you get your half back” from the federal grant, Hinman said.
The bell tower exists only because church officials got a little lucky. They checked with companies that do historic renovation work and got estimates that were far more than they could ever hope to pay. Then they bumped into Ted Pittsley of Hannibal and his company, Oswego Valley Millwork.
Pittsley’s done a lot of historical renovation, but often it’s on cabinetry and moldings. He’s working on the Colgate Inn’s renovation, for example, and says he built the old milk wagon that Hudson’s Dairy takes to parades.
“I like to build old stuff,” he said.
Pittsley’s quote for the work made possible the project that Hinman never thought he’d see.
It took Pittsley about three months to craft the bell tower to fit into a very old structure yet comply with modern building codes.
“To see it up there is incredible,” Pittsley said. “I think it’s stirring just to imagine that people today can appreciate what our forefathers did.”
There won’t be a bell in the bell tower. The bell was lowered early in the 20th century when the tower began to rot.
But it will help the church’s tones ring over the community, and bring the church back to the way it was a century ago. “We have a bell tower to bring people to God,” said Hinman.
[The church is still seeking donations to help replenish its drained bank account. You can send checks to Pastor Jim Hinman at 530 Maple Ave., Fulton, 13069.]