Within the first 10 years of its life, St. George’s 3rd church added a clock and bell to its steeple.
Bells were a primary means of communication – a way to summon the community for service, prayer or for special events, a wedding or funeral.
“In August 1789, Mary[Washington, George Washington’s mother] stopped speaking for fifteen days, and during her last five days she slept or was in a coma. On Mary’s death, August 25, her family paid the town crier, Joseph Berry, to toll the bell for her at St. George’s Church. He would have rung it two times because a woman had died and then once for every year of her age.” (From the Widow Washington – Martha Saxton)
The bell and clock are best seen from the graveyard outside the church.
In May 1856, the Fredericksburg News reported that the 1,510-pound bell for St Georges was “elevated to its position” into the steeple. That implies a hoist or lift but given no modern cranes or helicopter at the time it was still a job. We think it went through one of our louvers which can be opened. However, just two years later the Church felt that the bell’s sound was deficient.
In July 1858 a new bell from Meneely Bell Foundry had been ordered. The first Meneely bell foundry was established in 1826 in West Troy (now Watervliet), New York, by Andrew Meneely. Two of Andrew’s sons continued to operate the foundry after his death, and it remained a family operation until its closure. The second Meneely bell foundry was established in 1870 by a third son, Clinton H. Meneely, across the river in Troy, New York.
St. George’s bell arrived with a tone that was a “decided improvement” from the first one. It would be the largest bell in town. The bell was originally sent to Richmond by steamer instead of Fredericksburg. The paper quipped that the captain of the steamer displayed “an acquaintance with the geography of Virginia worthy of a member of the last legislature.” The weight was overstated in weight. Actual weight is 2,500 pounds rather than the 8,000 pounds publicized
The bell is loud enough to be heard outside of Fredericksburg. Stephen W. Sears’ book on the battle of Chancellorsville has this detail. “Within moments the rest of Lee’s army was awakened when the bell in the tower of the Episcopal church in Fredericksburg began tolling urgently.”
Since 1996, the bell has been on electric works that toll the hour and one time for the half-hour.
Pictures inside the bell tower, including the louvers :