By Jay Moore
It was a series of C-sharps which first called Abilene to worship in 1883. The tone rang forth from the belfry atop the small Methodist church located at South Second and Butternut. That same note, from that same bell, continues to sound each Sunday as one of Abilene’s oldest congregations gathers for worship.
Just weeks after the founding of Abilene, local Methodists organized into a congregation in 1881. They would be the first group to construct a place of worship, with a building going up at South Second and Butternut beginning in 1882. The small frame church cost $2,000 to build and it stood ready for worship, weddings and funerals by the summer of 1883.
The white, clapboard church design was quite simple. Evenly spaced along both the north and south walls were three arched windows. The east-facing double front door was topped with a Gothic-styled fanlight and framed by windows on either side. Perched on the roof was a small spire reportedly constructed by an itinerant carpenter named John Hancock from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who specialized in steeples.
Legend has it that while working on the steeple, Mr. Hancock was overcome with a dire premonition so strong that he simply put down his tools, walked to the Abilene train depot and caught the next passenger car east.
The small spire housed a copper bell, cast in 1883 by the Henry McShane foundry of Baltimore, and shipped to Abilene on the Texas and Pacific that same year. The original church would serve the congregants until it was replaced in 1890 with a larger building and the 300-pound bell was re-hung in a taller spire.
A third sanctuary was built in 1925 and, once more, the bell was hoisted into a new belfry. A fourth church was ready to receive worshippers on January 2, 1966 but, because the 1925 sanctuary was not razed, the forgotten bell remained in place until 2008 when the old red-brick 1925 sanctuary was finally demolished.
The long-silent bell was lowered from it’s long-silent perch, polished and fitted into a custom frame specially built so that this bit of Abilene history could be prominently displayed in the church foyer. Each Sunday, that original Abilene church bell still sounds out the deep C-sharp which has called Abilene to worship from her earliest days.