Sunday, May 15, 2011

Photo of the Week: Bird on a Bell

The 1920 Meneely Bell, with bird, on the DuSable bridge (JWB, 2011)

Before the skies darkened and the wind whipped up, we had a couple of lovely days last week.  On one of those I found this sparrow perched atop the bell on the southeast bridge house of the DuSable Bridge.

The bridge, designed by Edward H. Bennett, with Daniel Burnham the author of the Chicago Plan of 1909, was finished in 1920 and turned a little country lane called Pine Street into what has become one of the great merchandising boulevards in the world.

The bridge married the latest in technology with the timeless beauty of the Beaux Arts style.  Bennett believed in Burnham’s philosophy, the philosophy that Thomas Hines in his Burnham of Chicago summarized in this way:  “Burnham sought to bring to American soil much of the power, grandeur, mystery, and monumentality he saw in his Old World travels.  Somehow, he thought, there must be in America the same sense of wonder for Americans who would never be able to travel abroad.”

This modest, little bell falls fully in line with that philosophy.  Although the bell shows its date of manufacture as 1920, it was designed by a company that had been around since 1826,  the Meneely Bell Foundry, located in West Troy, now Watervliet, New York.

The founder of the company, Andrew Meneely,  started his career as an apprentice to one Julius Hanks, who began the first bell foundry in the United States.  Overall the Meneely Foundry produced 65,000 bells before it stopped production in 1952.

Meneely bells can be found at Cornell University and West Point.  They hang in churches from Guatemala (Parish Church of San Andres Xecul, Totonicapan) to Hawaii (Soldiers’ Chapel, Schofield Barracks). 

Bennett and Burnham certainly would have been familiar with Meneely’s work; the company created the 13,000-pound Columbian Liberty Bell, which was displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  That bell mysteriously disappeared, most likely in Russia, during a European tour after the fair closed.


Jill said...

Bells ringing are so interesting. Like many old buildings we just take bells for granted. Glad you took time to notice this one. Sorry to hear we are missing one from our Chicago exhibit.

xerxes14 said...

I'm sorry to tell you that both Meneely Bell Foundries of Troy and Watervliet, NY closed in 1952 due to a scarcity of copper and tin caused by the Korean War. The recipe for for bronze bells was 78% copper and 22% tin to make a bronze bell.There were about sixty bells ordered by the City of Chicago in the 1920's to use as alarm bells at many of the bridges over the Chicago River. If you would like more info contact me at