Phelps & Servin Phelps Family in America reprints now available
Save $201. Reprints of the 1899 Phelps Family in America family history are now available.

Bells for the Norwalk, Ohio Lutheran Church

In the late winter of 1924, the congregation of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Norwalk, Ohio, wavered between building plans it could afford and a church design it really wanted. Like a wide-eyed Christmas shopper with a credit card, it ordered the church it wanted, and prayed it could pay for it.

The question was whether to build a church for $25,000 without a bell tower or spend $31,000 for a building with a bell tower. The congregation couldn't resist the drawing with the bell tower and the vote was unanimous. A Monroeville contractor, Henry Schneider, thought the estimate by architect Granville Scott - with or without a bell tower - was too low. And he was right. Nevertheless, the tower became part of the new St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, even though there were no plans for a bell to go in it.

Bell was dedicated on Christmas Day of 1936.

The bell came later in 1936, during the depth of the Great Depression. Henry Bremser, who owned a coal yard in Norwalk, persuaded the vestry to create a fund for a bell. He had come from Germany where all churches had bells, and he thought St. Peter should have one. The vestry agreed but vowed there would be no bell until it had money to pay for one. Bremser apparently overcame this problem by writing a personal check for most of the cost. The 966-pound bell was cast of copper and tin by a St. Louis company. A hole was cut in the ceiling above a stairway, and the bell was hoisted into place with a rope and pulley. Senior deacons Merrill White and Elmer Christel were placed in charge of ringing the bell on Sunday mornings.

Occasionally a deacon would pull too hard on the rope and the bell would flip over the top and become stuck upside down. The custodian, Walter Schlegelmilch, would climb through a trapdoor in the ceiling of the balcony to reach the bell and flip it back.

The bell was left behind when St. Peter sold the church to the Salvation Army in 1974. A free-standing bell tower was erected at the new church on Benedict Avenue in 1978, again at the persistence of a German immigrant, Ulrich Mangold. It was designed by a son, Ernest Mangold. The price was $17,677. Three years later, the congregation removed the bell from its old church and re-hung it in the tower in front of the church where Norwalk Lutherans worship today.

The old bell that Henry Bremser bought no longer is rung, but there is a device inside to toll it during The Lord's Prayer. The sound of ringing church bells you hear at St. Peter is from a tape player connected to speakers in the tower. The three bells you see in the tower are mostly for show. But one of them has more than esthetic value. It's linked forever to the congregation's past.

From "One Hundred Years of Amazing Grace, History of a Lutheran Congregation, 1901-2001." St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, 243 Benedict Ave., Norwalk, OH 44857 p48