Bell With a Past

The bell sitting on a stand next to the Methodist Church in Port Lavaca, Texas, boasts a colorful past.  Originally, it belonged to the Indianola Methodist Church about nine miles down the coast from Port Lavaca, but a hurricane in 1875 destroyed much of the thriving seaport and most of the church buildings.  Although Indianola continued as a port city, the Methodists never rebuilt.  In 1886 another horrible storm and subsequent fire turned Indianola into a ghost town.

That 1886 storm also caused major damage forty miles inland to the Victoria Methodist Church.  After the congregation completed repairs to their building, they sent a group of men down to Indianola to retrieve “the finest bell in Texas” off the wrecked Methodist Church.

Malinda Harris, a tiny black woman, the only surviving member of the destroyed church, met the men and told them the bell was hers and they couldn’t have it.  They returned to Victoria empty-handed.

Meantime, Malinda Harris moved up the coast to Port Lavaca and when the Methodists built a new building, she gave the old Indianola bell to the congregation.  Old timers remembered her as Aunt Malindy, owner of a white boarding house.  She went about town wearing a starched white apron and sat on the back row at the Methodist church every Sunday morning.

The Frontier Times reprinted a story written in 1925 by Rev. M.A. Dunn in which he says when he arrived to serve the Port Lavaca church in 1901, a little black woman named Malinda Harris came to him wanting to pay to have the church painted.  When the work was completed and he went to collect the payment, Aunt Malindy drew thirteen $10 bills from an old Bible.  He said the money was so stiff that he thought of Noah’s Ark.  Then, he realized that those bills had been gathered from the floodwater of the Indianola storm and pressed because they stood up like cardboards.

When Malinda Harris died in 1914 she left her property consisting of one-half lot worth $250 and personal property worth $25 to the church.

The bell story does not end here.  The Methodist congregation outgrew its site and moved in 1958 to a new location.  The sales agreement of the old property called for the congregation to take the church bell.  The new facility didn’t have a sanctuary, only a fellowship hall and classrooms so the bell was forgotten.  Almost.  One man, L.E. Gross, did not forget.  He said he was a country boy and never got to enjoy a church bell until he moved to Port Lavaca.  He nagged his men’s class until they raised the money to hire a crane and move the bell to the new church site where it was placed on the ground and covered with a tarpaulin.  In 1975, when the church built a sanctuary L.E. Gross had not forgotten that bell.  Again, he nagged his men’s class until they raised the money to repair the old bell and mount it on a brick stand.

L.E. Gross was assigned to ring that bell before every worship service until his death.

Rev. Dunn, in his article said: “Today, if you are in Port Lavaca, and hear the Methodist Church bell ring, you will hear the bell that survived the storms of Indianola both 1875 and 1886.  It will tell you that the workmen are buried, but the Church of God still survives.”

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7 thoughts on “Bell With a Past

  1. Great story and I loved it. I was born and grew up in Port Lavaca. I don’t recall ever reading about this bell in the local Port Lavaca Wave, but may have missed it. You should send it to the newspaper! I probably have the old Frontier Times article in my files. Thanks.

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  2. Loved this story Myra! And Barb said it perfectly…”There’s just something about the ringing of a bell.” She’s so right. I live rural and I miss living in town and hearing the church bells…it’s such a peaceful, soothing sound!

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  3. Oh, amazing. I’d love to hear that bell. Think of the people who’ve heard that bell over the last 150 years, and the thoughts of joy or pain upon hearing it.
    Our church has a belfry and bells. I’m not sure why they were forgotton, but one New Year’s Eve, during a youth overnighter, they got the belfry door unlocked and rang in the New Year.

    The church got plenty of calls about it. All of them were thrilled to hear the old bells ring again. There’s just something about the ringing of a bell. Thanks for this great story.

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