The chime of
Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City

The main page for this chime presents the current status and abbreviated history of this instrument as we have deduced it from a variety of reports, in the standard format used on this Website.  Some of those reports are in conflict about what is or was in the tower of the present or previous Trinity Church buildings at various points in time.  This page is an interim effort to identify those points of conflict and to suggest how they might have arisen and what the actual history might have been.

History 1 (from church)
History 2 (from foundry records)
History 3 (from other sources)

History 1 - from church

A historic timeline on the Trinity Church Website makes clear that the present building, the third of the parish, was consecrated in 1846.  This new building was necessitated by the demolition in 1839 of the second building following winter storm damage.  The second building had been constructed in 1788-90, following the destruction of the first building (constructed in 1698) by a major fire that swept the city in 1776.

The following undated historical summary was provided by the Archives of Trinity Church in February, 2002 (highlighting and [commentary] added by this editor):

The Bells of Trinity Church

Through the years, the bells of Trinity Church have rung out, alerting the city "on alarms of fire," tolling in sadness for the passing of noble lives, and pealing in celebration for the ends of wars and joyous events such as the recent parade for astronaut John Glenn.

Today, the current "ring" (bell set) dates to bells ordered for the second Trinity Church building which was constructed in the 1790's after the first church burned down.  On August 14, 1797 that "Ring of Bells", a set of four bells [actually 8--see below] cast by Thomas Mears, arrived from London "on the good ship, Favorite."  These bells [but not all eight--see below] remained in the second Trinity Church until its demolition in 1839 and were re-installed in the third (and present) Trinity Church when it was rebuilt in 1846.

It was at this time that the original bell set was expanded [actually "repaired"] and synchronized with a clock mechanism.  The Vestry minutes of Oct. 28, 1844 grant the Building Committee "the power ... to restore the ring of bells formerly in the old edifice to its former number, or in their discretion to enlarge the same."  [This certainly implies replacement of a bell removed in 1834 (see below).]

The following year, four additional [actually "replacement"--see below] bells were imported from C.&G. Mears of London, and in 1846 the largest of the Trinity bells, weighing 3,000 pounds, was cast and installed by Meneely & Co.  One more bell was added from Mears in 1849 bringing the number up to the set of ten which remains to this day.  [The apparent implication that the big bell of 1846 was an addition rather than a replacement is false.  The 1849 addition brought the count up to 9; the tenth bell was not added until 1909--see below.]

Prior to electricity, the bells were sounded by "ringers" who climbed halfway up the tower to a small room one floor below the bells.  There they would ring the bells by moving a set of wooden handles attached to leather thongs connected to the bell hammers.  In 1946, an American "first" evolved from the fact that it was difficult to get competent ringers and that the public preferred "tunes" to "changes" (rhythmic patterns rung on a mathematical, rather than a melodic basis).  In this year, the bells were fixed in one position and electrical connections were made to the clappers.  As the New York Herald Tribune reported, "The bells of Trinity Church . . . are now sounded by counterbalance hammers in the first application in the United States of this principle to the ringing of church bells."

In 1985, after years of not chiming on the half hour, the bells were put on a new relay system with rebuilt electric clapper pushes enabling the mechanism to chime every fifteen minutes.  More recently, four of the ten bells were detached so they could again swing freely and produce a greater sound.  Following a sabbatical for repairs by Elderhorst Bells of Pennsylvania, a new remote switching device now allows the bell melody and tolling to be turned off during a service.  With a little more work, Trinity's bells will soon be ringing all the correct melodies at all the right times.

Bold highlights above indicate information which is in conflict with reports cited in the History 2 and History 3 sections (below). 

The minutes of the Vestry for 3/10/1834, reported to George Dawson by the Archivist at Trinity, show that one of the Mears bells of 1797 was moved from the tower of Trinity Church to St.Paul's Chapel in order to replace a broken bell there.  This is fairly conclusive evidence that the 8 bells were not all in use at this time, either for change-ringing or as a chime.  It appears likely that this was the treble bell (i.e., the smallest of the 8), but that remains to be confirmed.  The absence of this bell was made up in 1845.

See the Commentary section below for further discussion.

History 2 - from foundries

Two extracts of information from the records of the Whitechapel bell foundry were provided by Chris Pickford in December, 2002:

Peals book, 1797 :
bell numbers, diameters and original weights as shown in table below;
and note "recast 1, 2, 4 and 7, Sept 1845"

Daybook 20 Sept. 1845 :
Trinity Church, New York.
Recast bells 7-1-4, 6-3-9, 9-1-6, 18-0-10 271.3.10, clappers 4, stocks wheels etc 32, cases & packing & shipping charges 5.18.6, total 313.2.4

The following table combines the Peals book and Daybook information, and shows also the presumed pitch of each bell based on a tenor note of D natural:

Bell #
(in peal)
[Pitch] Diameter
1 D 32 1/4" 7-0-3 7-1-4
2 C# 33 1/2" 7-0-15 6-3-9
3 B 35 1/4" 8-2-26
4 A 38" 9-3-8 9-1-6
5 G 41" 12-1-18
6 F# 43" 13-2-21
7 E 47 1/4" 18-1-2 18-0-10
8 D 53" 24-3-25

Bell weights are shown in the conventional manner as cwt-qr-lb.  Note that the bells were numbered from treble to tenor, as is customary for rings.

We don't yet know whether there exist any records from the Meneely bellfoundry of West Troy (later Watervliet), NY, regarding the apparent recasting of the tenor bell of the ring.  In 1845, this foundry was being operated by Andrew Meneely; in 1849 it became Andrew Meneely & Son.  (Other name changes occurred in subsequent years.)

There is evidence that Meneely received a testimonial from Trinity regarding satisfaction with the 3081-lb. bell of 1849 (which would have been the recast tenor).

The logbook of the Meneely Bell Company (Troy, NY) cites delivery of a 383-pound bell to Trinity Church, New York City.  The entry is dated Nov.6, 1909.

History 3 - from other sources

Other information about these bells comes from a variety of sources.  The subsections which follow are in approximate order by date, though sometimes it is the date of the event and sometimes it is the date of the report from the source.

The use of these bells to play tunes (i.e., rung as a chime rather than for change-ringing) was documented in a report on the September 1st ceremonies related to the opening of the first trans-Atlantic submarine telegraph cable:
'At nine o'clock the bells at Trinity Church rang "Hail Columbia," "God Save the Queen," and "Yankee Doodle," filling the streets with sound.'

A news article mentioned ten bells at Trinity Church.  Therefore the enlargement from 9 to 10 bells must have occurred in this year, if not earlier.

A New York Times article on Nov.10 (Wed., p18) reported that one bell would be recast and a new chimestand would be installed. The recast bell, which is apparently the treble bell, must have replaced the tenth bell added previously.

An independent survey of the contents of the belfry was made by an American firm, possibly in association with some maintenance work being done by them.  This survey must have been conducted not earlier than an electrification (or re-electrification) which it reports as having been done in 1961, and not later than 1992 (when a summary of the survey came to my attention).  Since it does not mention the 1985 work cited in the church archives (see History 1 above), it almost certainly precedes that work by some years.  The survey reported ten bells, with details as follows:

Chime # Pitch Year Maker
9 E 1909 Meneely/Troy
8 D 1845-9? (C & G) Mears
7 C# 1845-9? (C & G) Mears
flat 7th C 1845-9? (C & G) Mears
6 B 1797 (T) Mears
5 A 1845-9? (C & G) Mears
4 G 1797 (T) Mears
3 F# 1797 (T) Mears
2 E 1845-9? (C & G) Mears
1 D 1845 (C&G?) Mears
The founders' initial(s) have been added based on church archives (see History 1 above).  Also, a column of chime numbers has been added.  These numbers have been assigned on the basis of conventional American chime numbering, which begins with the bass bell (as the tonic note of a major scale) and proceeds diatonically upward.  In view of the paragraph dated 2002 below, the attribution of the largest bell must be incorrect, in terms of both its date and its maker.

The report states that the bells were electrified in 1961.  In view of the Summary above, that work must have been either repair or replacement of the 1946 mechanism.

In the 7th and 8th editions of the famous "Dove's Guide" (properly titled "A Bellringer's Guide to the Church Bells of Britain"), this installation was reported as "Trinity Church on Broadway, 8 [bells], 25 cwt in D. - Unringable."  It isn't clear whether the two added bells were unknown to the compiler or were ignored because they were never hung for change ringing.  Elsewhere in this book, reports of additional bells "hung for chiming only" can be found.  (The 5th edition, 1976, did not mention these bells or any of the other "unringables" in North America.)

An article in The Ringing World (p.1210) reported that visiting English ringers had found eight bells hung for ringing but without wheels, plus two bells hung for chiming (i.e., not swinging).  It would be interesting to know whether they were hung in the original frame from 1797 (in which case it would have to have been salvaged from the previous building) or in a new frame constructed with the building in 1845-46.

George Dawson reported that the tenor was recast by Meneely in 1848, diameter 53".  He cited both a Meneely broadsheet from 1849 and an inspection report by an English foundry team; other details in the report agree with the table above with respect to the remaining 9 bells of the chime.

A front-page article in The Ringing World (issue No.4967, 7 June) reports that a new ring of 12 bells is to be installed in this tower later this year.  The existing bells will be refurbished and rehung as a chime in a new frame, higher in the tower.

11 Sept.2006:  An announcement on the two mail-lists for North American change ringers, dealing mainly with plans for the forthcoming dedication and installation of the new ring, mentions that a new semitone bell will be included in the rehung chime.


by Carl Scott Zimmerman, February, 2002; revised Dec.2002, Sep.2006 and Mar.2019.

It has long been known that Trinity Church received a ring of 8 bells in 1797.  Those bells formed the fourth octave of change-ringing bells installed in North America, and must have been hung in the tower of the second Trinity Church building.  When that building was demolished, at least some of the bells must have been taken down, stored, and eventually installed in the present building.  Perhaps the bell frame was similarly recycled.

Attempting to make sense of the various reported pitches, dates and makers yields the following composite description of what may survive in Trinity's belfry:

Chime # Ring # Pitch Year Maker Notes Weight
9 - E 1909 Meneely Bell Co. recast added treble 383 #
8 Treble D 1845 C & G Mears recast 816 #
7 2 C# 1845 C & G Mears recast 765 #
flat 7th - C 1849 C & G Mears added semitone ? #
6 3 B 1797 T. Mears original 978 #
5 4 A 1845 C & G Mears recast 1042 #
sharp 4th - G# 2006 Taylor added semitone ? #
4 5 G 1797 T. Mears original 1390 #
3 6 F# 1797 T. Mears original 1573 #
2 7 E 1845 C & G Mears recast 2026 #
1 Tenor D 1846-8? A. Meneely? recast 3081 #

The two "number" columns are taken from the previous two tables.  The weights given are in pounds, converted from the appropriate cwt-qr-lb figures in those tables.  From the Summary above, it appears likely that the flat 7th was added in 1849 and that the other four C&G Mears bells were installed in 1846 (though probably dated 1845).

The assertion (in the Summary) that the original bells were only 4 in number seems to be a mistaken conclusion drawn from the fact that four remaining bells (three here and one in the tower of St.Paul's Chapel) bear the date 1797.  Although the pitch of St.Paul's bell is not known to this writer, it is obvious that it could not possibly have formed a diatonic ring of four with the three oldest bells above.  But it must be one of the four bells that were replaced by the 1845 work by Mears.  This indicates that Trinity did not ship the old bells back to Whitechapel for recasting (or at least not all of them), but ordered new bells as replacements.  Since this order replaced more than just the bell removed in 1834, it suggests that some of the bells had been damaged, either in the demolition of the second church building or while in use previously.  Or some may have been stolen from storage after the demolition.

Regardless of all of the above, the "flat 7th" bell is effectively the first instance of a tower bell instrument in North America being expanded beyond a diatonic scale.  This is of great historical significance, because it occurred a year before the first 9-bell chime was produced by any of the established American bellfoundries.  (See Milestones in North American chimes.  The 11 bells shipped from Whitechapel to Notre Dame in Montreal in 1843 were a diatonic ten plus sub-bourdon, a rather different situation.  The lost chime of St.Philip's Church, Charleston, cast in 1848, was an isolated effort by a European-trained bellfounder, and probably had little or no effect on developments in the established American foundries.)

The Summary's identification of a Meneely & Co. bell as being an additional bass which was installed in 1846 must be incorrect.  The name "Meneely & Co." was not used by the West Troy foundry until 1874.  Although that name was still in use by the West Troy foundry when the new treble was added in 1909, it cannot refer to that bell, which clearly was supplied by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, NY.  (Though connected by family relationships, the two Meneely bellfoundries were business competitors.)  It appears that Meneely (West Troy) recast the original Mears tenor bell, though why the church would have contracted for them to do so is unclear.  Perhaps it wasn't known that the tenor was damaged at the time the order was placed with Mears to recast four bells.  Or perhaps the tenor was damaged after the four replacements were installed, and the church did not wish to wait for a replacement to be shipped from England.  In any event, the weight of 3000 pounds cited in the Summary is almost certainly a pattern weight and not an exact weight.

The Meneely treble appears lightweight in comparison to its Mears neighbor.  Undoubtedly it was cast to Meneely's standard profile, suitable for a chime, while the Mears trebles would be relatively heavy (as is customary for the treble bells of rings).

The Whitechapel daybook citation given above indicates that at least some new wheels were supplied in 1845, along with the four recast bells and their fittings.  However, it is not known for certain how long (if at all) full-circle ringing was actually practiced here.  The removal of one bell to St.Paul's in 1834 strongly suggests that not all 8 bells were in use at that time.  While it's possible that change-ringing was still being practiced on 6 bells, and that the restoration of 1844-6 was intended to enable change-ringing on 8 bells, there doesn't seem to be any solid evidence for that.

The fifth paragraph of the Summary appears to confuse change-ringing with chiming.  It describes what we would now call a chimestand, which can be operated by a single person.  (The "leather thongs" would have been Meneely's adjuster straps just above the chimestand, connecting the keys to rod-and-chain linkages to the clappers of the bells.)  It is not clear when that chimestand was installed, but 1909 (the date of the last treble) might be a good guess.  Prior to that, there might have been an Ellacombe-type system, particularly if use as a chime overlapped the period when change-ringing was being done.  (Some sort of chiming mechanism must have been in place by 1858, probably having been installed with the semitone bell in 1849 if not earlier.)  It is quite possible that both an Ellacombe system and a later chimestand might have been used to simulate change ringing.  However, either could also have been used for playing tunes, so the electric action added in 1946 was not "necessary" for that purpose.

The reference to "first application" in the same paragraph of the Summary is erroneous if it was meant to apply to the use of an electrical mechanism (though it might be correct with respect to "counterbalance hammers".)  Electrical ringing mechanisms for tower bells were being supplied by at least three American firms prior to the 1940s.

All of the commentary above is subject to rectification on the basis of (a) original documents from the Trinity Church Archives and/or (b) direct inspection of the contents and structure of the belfries of Trinity Church and St.Paul's Chapel, New York City.  Unfortunately, some evidence (in the category of industrial archaeology) may have disappeared in the course of the project to install a new ring of 12 in this tower and to relocate and rehang the existing bells.  If I had had an opportunity to visit that tower before that project began, I would have looked for at least the following:

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This page was created 2002/02/15 and last revised 2019/03/15.

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