COLUMBIA COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Where there was once a 145-year-old, heavy bronze bell with a storied history and ties to the community, now sits a sign with a desperate plea: RETURN OUR BELL.
“This theft is a theft to all the community of Malden Bridge,“ said Bronwyn Hannon, Vice President of Malden Bridge Community Center.
Considered by residents of Malden Bridge to be a community treasure, the Old Chatham bell was cast by Meneely and Kimberly Founders of Troy in 1878. It graced the hamlet of Old Chatham for more than 80 years, until the Methodist Church became structurally unsound and the steeple had to be demolished. The congregation moved to Malden Bridge.
“The congregations had merged, and they had the bell placed here, where it has been since 1975,” said Lucinda Buckley, President of Malden Bridge Community Center, “so, almost 50 years.”
For that long, people have been driving past the bell on the lawn of what is now the Malden Bridge Community Center, stopping to read the embossment, and inquiring about its history.
“It’s the history of the church, the community in general, the many, many people that have been members of the church,” said longtime Malden Bridge resident Elizabeth Hurley, who went on to explain that the bell holds significance to many who were married or baptized in either church where the bell spent time.
Buckley said the bell has an attached MeNeely and Kimberly Yoke. The A-frame for the bell was left behind at the community center. The Malden Bridge Community Center is located at the point where Albany Turnpike, Route 66 and Shaker Museum Road meet in Malden Bridge.
The Center has been planning a capital improvement project to make repairs to the bell in recent months.
Paul Ashe is the Director of the National Bell Festival in Washington DC, which raises funding for the care and restoration of historic bells. He said smaller bells are sometimes stolen as a prank and eventually returned. However, this one, at over 1200 pounds, was likely taken for a different reason.
“Bells are more tempting targets for thieves,” said Ashe, “selling it for scrap and hoping to make a few hundred or even several thousand dollars.”
“I do hope that either the scrappers who may be approached with this huge, unique bell…will come back to us, they will have second thoughts about it, and it suddenly appears on the lawn,” Hannon said, “that is our hope.”
The bell went missing between 7 p.m. on April 24 and 7 a.m. on April 25. A $3500 reward is being offered for information that results in the return or recovery of the bell, or the arrest and conviction of whoever stole it.
Buckley said the authorities have been notified about the bell’s disappearance. If you have any information about where the bell might be, you can contact the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office or the Malden Bridge Community Center at MaldenBridgeCC@gmail.com.