Degraded North American tower bell instruments

Some carillons or chimes in North America have had bells or traditional playing mechanisms removed, but survive in that degraded condition.  The lists below identify those instruments, categorized according to their original (or maximum) size.  The nature of each degradation is given here, and in each case there is a link to the site data page which describes the instrument in its present state.


Carillons which have lost their traditional mechanisms:

Nashville, TN = Sellersville, PA
A traditional carillon of 23 bells was installed at Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, TN, by Gillett & Johnston in 1923.  In 1952, the school traded in the carillon for an electronic device from Schulmerich Carillons, Inc., who then installed the carillon in a freestanding open steel tower on their property in Sellersville, PA.  In 2012, the Schulmerich firm was dissolved; its electronic carillon division as well as the G&J bells were purchased by the Verdin Company.  In 2016, the bells reappeared, gleaming like new, in an electric-action mobile instrument owned by the Virginia Arts Festival.  Presumably Verdin scrapped the original G&J keyboard.

Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
A traditional carillon of 30 bells was installed in 1923, and expanded to 37 bells in 1926.  The treble half of the range was replaced in 1966.  After three-quarters of a century of incident-free usage, the tower was deemed to be an unsafe workplace, and the traditional playing mechanism was replaced with an automatic electric mechanism.  How that mechanism can be installed and serviced "safely" when access to the rebuilt tower by trained musicians is "unsafe" is a mystery to all those who are accustomed to climbing bell towers all across North America, Europe and beyond.

Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico
A 42-bell traditional carillon was installed here in 1952, but in 1968 the bells were put into storage.  By 1989 they were reported to have been stolen, but apparently some survived, because in June 2010 this instrument was reported to have been rehabilitated, albeit with only electric action.

New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, NJ
The initial installation of this very lightweight carillon had the same baton keyboard which had been used while the bells were hung in the garden of the Dutch pavillion of the New York World's Fair of 1939.  When the building housing the carillon was demolished about 1965, the bells were put in storage but the mechanism was junked.  When the bells were installed atop a new chapel building in 1980, an electric action was supplied.

DePauw University, Greencastle, IN
A 37-bell carillon with traditional manual action was installed here in 1976.  When the normal wear of 40 years use and exposure to weather made it difficult to play, it was instead electrified with an independent external action.  It is believed that the manual action could be restored, but there seem to be no prospects for that in the near future.

Carillon Beach, Panama City Beach, FL
A lightweight 35-bell carillon with traditional manual action was installed here in 1993, as the centerpiece of a residential development.  In 2007, after years of difficulties with maintenance, caused by continuous exposure to sea air, the manual action was removed, so the bells are now played only automatically.

Furman University, Greenville, SC
A traditional carillon of 59 bells was installed here in 1966.  (A 60th bell, tuned to match the rest and perhaps intended to make this instrument larger than the one at The Citadel in Charleston, was never connected to the keyboard.)  Unfortunately, years of neglect led to its becoming completely unplayable by the mid 1990s, and it remained in that condition for a decade.  In 2004-05, the tower was fully restored, but the carillon was not.  Two octaves of Vanbergen trebles were replaced by one octave of Paccard trebles, and the previously independent bass bell was connected to a new electric action which covers the full range of 48 bells.  It is unknown whether manual action is restorable.
EDITOR'S NOTE:   This was the largest complete set of Vanbergen bells ever cast, and it was in my opinion the best that the Vanbergen foundries ever produced.  It is a pity that its musical capabilities were not fully restored, especially in view of the very lovely setting of its tower on Furman Lake.

Northfield Mount Hermon School, Gill, MA
A traditional carillon of 47 bells was installed in 1966 in Sage Chapel on what in 1971 became the Northfield campus of this school.  It was a near-twin of the one installed in the same year at UC-Riverside; these were last two carillons built by Arthur Bigelow before his untimely death.  The carillon was silenced in 2003 by safety concerns about the building, just as the school was encountering difficulties of other kinds which caused this campus to be closed two years later.  In April 2008, the bells of this carillon were moved to a new tower on the Mount Hermon campus (now the only campus of the school), but with electric action only.  It is not known whether the building could be modified to add a traditional keyboard.

Chimes which have lost their traditional mechanisms:

(Identification of instruments in this category has not yet been done.)


Still carillon-sized

Only one instrument is known in this category, and it is classifed as down-graded; see Furman University, Greenville, SC, above.

NOTE:  The first six 4-octave Taylor-made carillons from the late 1920s were originally equipped with doubled treble bells, intended to produce a larger volume of sound.  All of the duplicate treble bells were subsequently removed, or at least disconnected, because of the difficulty of adjustment and consequent unsatisfactory performance.  However, in each case the number of musical notes remained unchanged, so they were not down-sized in their musical capabilities.  For more details see the article on Taylor's doubled trebles.

From carillon-sized to chime-sized

Instruments which were originally installed as carillons, but have since been reduced in size to become chimes, are listed in order by city name:

Church of the Precious Blood, Detroit, MI
A 35-bell Petit & Fritsen carillon was installed in 1951.  A few years later, the church removed 23 bells, and converted the remaining 12 to a chime, where it is currently listed and indexed.  The actual disposition of the bells which were removed is unknown, though it is speculated that they were traded in to Verdin.  (The name of the parish was later changed to St.Peter Claver Catholic Community.)

First Baptist Church, Flint, MI (now Woodside Church)
In 1952, about 30 bells were installed (the exact number is unclear), apparently with electric action.  In 1957, all but 12 were removed, possibly because the trebles were "inaudible".  (One version of the history suggests that smaller bells were replaced with larger ones, but that seems unlikely.)

Still chime-sized

Trinity Episcopal Church, Williamsport, PA
A 9-bell chime installed in 1875 was augmented in 1923 with a bell cast by the late Melvin C. (Jim) Corbett, thus making this a 10-bell chime.  In 1973, Corbett's bell, the only one he ever made, was removed from the belfry and placed on display in the entryway at the base of the tower.  The original 9 bells remain in use.


Two instrument which were degraded from traditional to non-traditional action have been rescued and restored to proper use.

City Hall, Albany, NY
A 47-bell carillon was installed in installed in 1927 with a traditional keyboard.  In the mid-20th century, that method of playing fell into disuse (possibly from disrepair), and an electric action with ivory keyboard was attached to the lowest 35 bells.  In 1986, the instrument was renovated and expanded to its present size, with a modern traditional keyboard.  (The old electric action was junked.)

Callie Self Memorial Baptist Church, Greenwood, SC
The 24 Vanbergen bells installed here in 1941 had previously been hung at the Dutch Pavilion of New York World's Fair, where they were played by an electric action.  Presumably the same mechanism was initially used here, but in 1948 this instrument was expanded to 35 bells with the addition of both basses and trebles; a traditional baton keyboard was installed at the same time, the whole being dedicated with great fanfare in January 1949.  As late as 1966, it was still being played from that keyboard, but at some subsequent date an electric action was added and the traditional keyboard seems to have become disused.  Around 2006, there were rumors of structural problems, financial problems, etc., and it seemed for a while as if the carillon might be taken down entirely.  However, around 2010 the long-disused traditional keyboard and action were refurbished to the point of being playable again.

One instrument which was downsized from a carillon to a chime has been expanded back to carillon size (though not with its original mechanism).

St.Michael's and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA
A 24-bell carillon by Schilling of Germany was installed in 1927 with a traditional keyboard.  After that church closed in the early 1970s, some bells were lost or stolen; the remainder eventually became a 17-bell electric-action chime at The Lutheran Home of Germantown in Philadelphia.  In 1980, the instrument was enlarged to its present size of 28 bells, though still with electric action.

(Searching the database to identify chime-sized instruments in this category has not yet been done.)

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This page was created 2005/05/30 and last revised 2020/08/07.

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