Church Bell With a Story to Tell

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Cuero boasts three bells in its arched façade. The small copper bell claims a story of survival. It began life on the Reliance, a Morgan Steamship Line merchant vessel that sailed between New Orleans and the thriving Texas port of Indianola.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Cuero.

Indianola residents were enjoying a party onboard the Reliance in 1856 when a fire broke out. The partygoers escaped unharmed, but they heard the ringing of a tiny bell as they watched the burning ship sink into the shallow water of Matagorda Bay.

The Lutherans needed a bell for their new church, and with the Morgan Steamship Lines’ permission, some of the members dove into the bay and retrieved the bell for their church steeple.

Nine years later, during the Civil War, Union troops occupied Indianola for a few months. While they confiscated everything of value, a group of Union soldiers climbed the Lutheran church steeple and tossed the little bell to the ground, intending to return for it when they loaded their other booty.

That night, some of the church members retrieved the bell and buried it. In 1875 a terrible hurricane wrecked Indianola and destroyed most of the churches. Many residents moved inland to places like the new railhead town of Cuero. Then another devastating storm and fire in 1886 turned Indianola into a ghost town.

Meantime, the Lutherans in Cuero held services in the German schoolhouse and finally built their first church in 1889. As the building neared completion and talk centered on the need for a bell in the handsome steeple, one of the members remembered helping bury the little copper bell almost twenty-five years earlier. He led a group to the site where the little bell waited, and they proudly mounted it in the steeple. The bell called the congregation to worship for about five years until a member donated a much larger bell.

Again, the little copper bell received a new life summoning volunteers of the Cuero Fire Department. After several years, the volunteer firemen installed a modern alert system, and an observant church member discovered the little bell tossed in a trash heap. Upon completion of the present church in 1939, the little bell found its final home as one of three bells in the peal.

Serving as St. Mark’s Prayer Bell, it rings when worshipers pray the Lord’s Prayer and it tolls at the conclusion of funeral services when the casket is moved from the front of the church to the narthex.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church history claims the little copper bell is a reminder to continue serving as circumstances change, even after being buried and resurrected or thrown on a trash heap.

Advertisements

The Bell With A Past

Church Bell, Port Lavaca United Methodist Church

Church Bell, Port Lavaca United Methodist Church

The bell sitting on a brick platform next to the United Methodist church building in Port Lavaca has 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” from the wrecked Methodist Church.

Melinda Harris, a tiny black woman, the only surviving member of the destroyed church still living in the abandoned town, met the men and told them that the bell belonged to her and they couldn’t have it. They returned to Victoria empty-handed.

Meantime, Melinda 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 that 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 ten-dollar 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 after the Indianola storm and pressed dry because they stood up like cardboards.

When Malinda Harris died in 1914 she left her property consisting of one-half lot worth two-hundred-fifty dollars and personal property worth twenty-five to the church.

The bell story continues: The Methodist congregation outgrew its site and moved in 1958 to a new location. The sales agreement called for the congregation to take the church bell. However, the new facility didn’t have a sanctuary, only a fellowship hall and classrooms. The bell was left behind and forgotten.

L.E. Gross did not forget. He said he was a country boy and never got to enjoy a church bell until he had moved to Port Lavaca. He nagged his men’s Sunday school 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 remembered that bell. Again, he nagged his men’s class until they raised the money to repair the old bell and build a brick stand on which to mount it. Until his death, L.E. Gross rang that church bell before every worship service.

Rev. Dunn wrote in his article: “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.”

THE BELL WITH SEVEN LIVES

Travelers headed south across Central Texas may discover an interesting story of survival while passing through Cuero.  On the southwest corner of US highways183 and 87, the handsome mission style St. Mark’s Lutheran Church boasts three bells in its arched façade.

The small bronze bell, the one on the lower right, began life on the Reliance, a merchant ship sailing as part of the Morgan Steamship Line between New Orleans and the thriving port of Indianola.  In 1856, Indianola residents were enjoying a party aboard the Reliance docked at the end of one of the port’s long piers extending into Matagorda Bay, when a fire broke out. All the partygoers escaped unharmed and as they watched the burning ship sink into the shallow water they heard the ringing of its tiny bell.

The Lutherans needed a bell for their new church, and with Morgan Steamship Lines’ permission, some of the members dove into the bay to retrieve the bell for the church steeple.

Nine years later, during the Civil War, Union troops occupied Indianola for a few months.  While confiscating everything of value to take with them, a group of Union soldiers climbed the Lutheran church steeple and tossed the little bell to the ground, intending to return for it as they loaded the other booty.

That night, some of the church members quietly retrieved the bell and buried it. During the next ten years Charles Morgan, the shipping tycoon, gave bells to most of the Indianola churches, which probably explains why the little bell remained buried and forgotten.

In 1875 a terrible hurricane wrecked Indianola, destroying most all the church buildings.  Many residents moved inland to places like the new railhead town of Cuero. Then, another devastating storm and fire in 1886 turned Indianola into a ghost town, forcing its residents to give up and move inland.

Meantime, Lutherans in Cuero, after holding services for several years in the German school house, finally built their first church in 1889.  As the building neared completion and talk centered on the need for a bell in the handsome steeple, one of the members remembered helping bury the little bronze bell almost twenty-five years earlier.  He led a group to the site where the little bell waited, and they proudly mounted it in the steeple.  For about five years the bell called the congregation to worship until a member donated a much larger bell.

Again, the little bronze bell took a new life summoning volunteers of the Cuero Fire Department.  After several years, the volunteer firemen installed a modern alert system, and an observant church member discovered the little bell tossed in a trash heap.   Upon completion of the present church in 1939, the little bell found its final home as one of three bells in the peal.

Serving as St. Mark’s Prayer Bell, it rings when worshipers pray the Lord’s Prayer and it tolls softly at the conclusion of funeral services as the casket is moved from the front of the church to the narthex.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church history claims the little bronze bell as a symbol for the calling of God’s people—to continue serving as circumstances change, even after being buried and resurrected or thrown on a trash heap.