The peal of a church bell has the power to connect past with present and individual with community. The bells that ring throughout the towns in Grayson County are announcers of time, special events, and worship, but most of all they provide an atmosphere.

The peal of a church bell has the power to connect past with present and individual with community. The bells that ring throughout the towns in Grayson County are announcers of time, special events, and worship, but most of all they provide an atmosphere.


Local author and historian Suzanne Broussard associates the sound of a bell with the tranquillity found inside her church home, St. Patrick Catholic Church in Denison.


"Every time you hear it, it’s that sense of peace that you get when you’re in church. The bell just brings that to you immediately," Broussard said.


A call to worship


The bells at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitesboro can be heard through much of the town, church historian Jack Humes said. The church’s single, historic, bronze bell is played before every worship service. The church also has an electronic carillon — considered a musical instrument, a carillon is made up of multiple bells typically housed in a church’s bell tower. Humes’ son, Troy, took on the task of pulling the single bronze bell’s rope every Sunday, welcoming church attendees.


In Sherman, Covenant Presbyterian’s single bell attracted the devotion of late member and World War II veteran, Russell Jordan. He was a bomber on a B-17 plane, said Bert Garcia, an amateur historian and church member. An avid musician, Mr. Jordan put a lot of effort into preserving the bell. He greased the bearings and built a steep, wooden staircase leading up the steeple to the belfry. He often led children on tours to see the bell. After Mr. Jordan’s death, memorial funds were raised in his honor to cover the bell’s maintenance. A church document written about Mr. Jordan says, "When the church bell rings again, Russell will be present in spirit."


Traditional and modern


Churches may have either singular bells or carillons, which are a set of several octaves of bells. Carillons can be acoustic, which are actual cast bronze bells hanging from a tower, or electronic, which produce digitized bell sounds and songs generally heard through speakers.


Sue Ellen Richey, secretary of the Whitesboro Presbyterian Church, recalled moments when her church’s electronic carillon began to play at noon hour the middle of a pastor’s sermon: "It’s like a sign from God, so we’d all stop and listen."


Gary Loper, an organ tuner and bell specialist, said the carillon is considered an instrument and is played with sheet music specifically written for carillons. He maintains Austin College’s acoustic carillon, as well as the electronic carillon of Waples Memorial United Methodist Church. Though he feels both electronic and acoustic bells provide quality sounds, there are some things the digital cannot replicate.


"(Bronze) Bells are actually speaking in the environment of the air that surrounds them," Loper said.


Acoustic carillons are now mostly played with an electronic keyboard that can be timed and programmed with songs, but some in the world are still played in the traditional fashion of a baton clavier or a keyboard. With a baton clavier, the keys are pushed down with fists and a system of levers pull batons to strike the bell above.


A source of memories


In October of 1967, when the bells at Wynne Chapel on the Austin College campus in Sherman were dedicated, Dr. Richard Tappa used his fists to sound them out for the first time.


AC history professor Light Cummins said Tappa was particularly adept at carillon playing. Every July Fourth he would give a special carillon concert with patriotic music and American folk tunes. Cummins said that hundreds of people would sit on the grass to listen to the bells chime.


"I have many memories of sitting out on the lawn on July the 4th with my family and listening to Dr. Tappas’ patriotic carillon. … The carillon concerts that Dr. Tappa gave were truly remarkable. They will always remain in my mind as very joyous and unusually entertaining and very meaningful musical events," Cummins said.


Bells confirm ritual


The bell in Whitewright’s First United Methodist Church has rung for its community for 118 years. Angie Eads, secretary of the church, said they make a point of showing visitors the original bell, which peals every Sunday after church as the pastor bids the congregation goodbye.


"Usually you can find a kid hanging on the end of the rope or sometimes a few of them are helping each other cause it’s kind of hard to tug on," Eads said with a laugh.


But beyond the joy ride for the children, the bell is a resounding constant in the community. Eads figures it may be the only church bell in the entire town.


"It’s something that you’ve heard all of your life," Eads said, "so to think that (for) my great-grandparents … that bell was what would ring to let them know that there was a fire. (The bell) … connects our past to now and even the future."