By LINDA M. LINONIS
A landmark near the intersection of state Route 45 and U.S. Route 224 is whole again thanks to the faith and fundraising of its members and donations from friends and the community.
Ellsworth Presbyterian Church again is graced by its 19th-century antique bell along with a new spire.
The saga began in July 2009 when Ellsworth Presbyterian faced a crisis because its bell tower had begun to lean and the potential for collapse existed. It is believed the tower was damaged in a windstorm that went through the Mahoning Valley on Sept. 14, 2008.
The church, chartered in 1818, was built in 1833, and the bell tower was part of the original structure.
The 75-member church began SOS, Save Our Steeple campaign, to raise funds to repair the steeple. The SOS committee sent letters to church members, area businesses, individuals and organizations apprising them of the tower predicament and seeking donations, said Sherry Weamer, church treasurer. “Some memorial gifts were made,” she added. The church also had fundraisers.
The bell tower and steeple were removed in September 2009; a temporary roof was installed.
The overall cost of removing the steeple and bell, having a temporary covering, then re-installing the bell and spire has totaled about $80,000.
A Vindicator story published July 4, 2009, chronicled the plight of the small church. Tony and Mary Lariccia, Valley philanthropists, responded with a donation of $50,000 to help. Tony Lariccia said he and his wife were moved to help the country church because it “is a part of Valley history.” The Lariccia donation and church fundraising totaled $75,000.
Weamer said she “was dumbfounded” when the she saw the amount of the check. The Lariccias valued the “historical significance” of the bell, Weamer said. In years past, the church bell had been used to summon firefighters; the town hall, across from the church, once was the fire station.
Getting the plans in order, finalizing them and working with an engineer all took time. In August 2012, Mahoning County zoning and building offices approved the plans.
Joseph Sylvester Construction in Youngstown handled the installation.
“There had to be a platform for the bell then the spire went on top of that,” said John Bates, a church trustee.
Weamer said the church decided on a fiberglass spire. “We think it will be durable and last a long time,” she said.
The new spire was manufactured in Alabama.
The previous spire had a weather vane on it, the new one has a cross. The bell weighs in at just under 1,000 pounds; the overall weight of bell, platform and spire is 1,800 pounds. The bell area is about 8 feet tall and spire, 32 feet.
“The old bell works ... we rang it,” Bates said. “It’s deafening.”
The church has a carillon that signals every hour; and at noon and 6 p.m. three different selections are played at random.
Bates said the church will electronically ring the antique bell and only the clapper will move not the entire 800-pound bell. That will reduce stress on the bell tower. The bell, which is inscribed Dec. 25, 1870, was installed in 1871.