The Chimes of First Parish

A Sermon delivered by Charles E Wainwright, Historical Committee Chair

01 December, 2013


The sun shone brightly through the windows of the First Parish Church, illuminating the pulpit and the choir loft on a warm late October Sabbath in 1931.  The singers completed their rendition of a Bach Cantata, and Reverend Fred Lewis, prepared to deliver his Sermon of Thanksgiving for the Church’s newly built Butler chimes that were to be dedicated two weeks hence.  Without warning, a moan and a thud from a pew broke the meditative silence.  Several Parishioners lifted the lifeless body of a man from his seat at the front of the Sanctuary and laid it on the floor.  Albert Boyden checked the wrist of his unconscious brother Roland for a pulse, and then ran to the Minister’s office to call for an ambulance.  Rev. Lewis terminated the service and asked all to leave the Church quickly.

Thus ended the life of Roland W. Boyden; lawyer, statesman, and lifelong member of First Parish.  Although he and his family are well remembered here, few are fully aware of the key role he and his brother Albert played in securing our Church’s chimes.

The Boyden brothers lived on Washington Street near the Church.  Their father William was the Parish clerk at the time that its ninth minister, Ellery Channing Butler was called to serve in 1872.  Roland William Boyden, born in Beverly on October 18, 1863, was a product of our Sunday school and studied law at Harvard University.  In 1917 he joined the legal staff of the United States Food Administrator working for Woodrow Wilson.  From 1920 to 1923, Roland represented the United States on the original War Reparations Commission, a body charged with determining the amount of damages Germany and Austria would have to pay to the allies for causing the War.  In 1929 he served President Hoover as the American delegate to the Institute of Pacific Relations at Kyoto Japan, and in 1930 he was appointed to be Umpire of the German-American Mixed Claims Commission.  Soon after, he was named a member of the permanent court of Arbitration at The Hague.  Between appointments, Roland practiced law in Boston, commuting by train from his home in Beverly.

By contrast, Albert Boyden chose to live his life quietly and close to his family.  Born 19 September, 1871, he was an attorney, practicing at the same Boston Law firm as his brother.  He headed the First Parish Music committee and for many years served on the Parish’s Ministerial Fund Committee.

The Boydens were close friends of Rev. Ellery Channing Butler and his wife, and remained so even after the Minister left our church to serve at the President’s Church in Quincy.  When Rev. Butler died in 1912, Roland became the attorney of Rev. Butler’s widow, Mary Adelaide Butler.

Mary Adelaide (Carey) Butler was born in Medway, Massachusetts in 1849, daughter of Gilman Carey and Catherine Lovell.  After her marriage to Rev. Butler, she became a classic Minister’s wife- attending to the social and nurturing aspects of Parish life.  As a result, she made many friends amongst the parishioners of Beverly and was much loved and respected.  The death of her only child Max Lovell Butler at the age of 21 was something from which she never recovered.  After her husband died, she remained in Quincy, where she died on March 4th, 1928.

In death, Mrs. Butler was a generous benefactor.  She willed eighty five thousand dollars for the Meadville Theological Seminary in Meadville PA, where her husband had graduated.  She bequeathed large sums to the Beverly and Quincy churches they had served.  She made bequests to the churches in her childhood homes of Medway, Norfolk, Medfield, and Quincy, and to the American Unitarian Association.  She gave money to Town libraries, social societies, and hospitals all over the country.  She even provided small legacies to about thirty of her friends and acquaintances including her maids and nurses.

Upon Mrs. Butler’s death, Roland informed the Committee of First Parish that her will included the following bequest, among others:

“I give to the First Parish Church in Beverly, Massachusetts as a memorial to my son, Max Lovell Butler, the sum of five thousand dollars for the purchase and installation, including expense of appropriate changes in the Meeting House, of a chime or peal of bells and the necessary apparatus for the operation of the same in the present or any other Meeting House of said Parish”.

This gift was met by some cynicism by the Parish Committee.  After all, the Church already had its Revere Bell, and besides, weren’t there other ways in which such a princely amount of money could be better used in the Church?  But Roland and Albert had a very different vision.  Being of a musical bent, they were both painfully aware that the Church’s famous bell was of poor quality and its tone was badly off-key.  Truth be told, if it were not for the name of the patriot stamped on the bell, it would have been replaced long ago.  The Committee named the brothers a subcommittee to determine the feasibility of accepting Mrs. Butler’s gift and constructing a new set of bells for the Church.

The brothers immediately set to work, launching a three year investigation into the state of the bell maker’s trade.  They learned all about the difference between bells, chimes, and carillons, where a bell is a single cast metal body with an internal clapper that plays when it is rolled, a chime is a collection of from 4 to 11 stationary bells tuned to a musical scale that when hit by hammers plays a tune, and a carillon is a collection of 35 or more bells arranged so that they can be played as a musical instrument, using a keyboard.  They learned that in the US, the trend had moved away from traditional bells and towards an innovation called tubular bells, which were both cheaper and lighter.  The brothers traveled all over the northeast visiting Churches and buildings where bells, chimes, and carillons were installed to hear their tone, and to judge the reputation of their makers.  They quickly dismissed the tubular bell option as being of substandard tonal quality.  They also realized that, with 35 bells and a keyboard, a Carillon would be much too large for the space allowed in the First Parish steeple.  They decided that a chime would be the best solution.

This brought the pair to their first major challenge- cost.  Five thousand dollars may have been a generous gift, but it would not pay for even a small tubular chime after considering all the required modifications to the Church steeple.  They determined that ten thousand dollars would be minimum amount required for the purchase and installation of domestically made chimes.

But there were only three active Chimes makers in the world and two were located in the US.  Albert, particularly skeptical of the quality of American made bells after his experience with the Revere bell, insisted on chimes from John Taylor & Co., bell founders and Carillon builders located in Loughborough England.  With 40-50% import tariffs, the estimate skyrocketed to over twenty thousand dollars.  Where would they secure the additional funds?’

Roland had the answer.  A secondary part of the bequest to the First Parish Church stated:

“…If, in the judgment of my executor or administrator, said sum shall not be sufficient for the purpose, I authorize him to increase it by such further sums as he deems necessary or desirable, leaving the amount to his discretion.”‘

All Roland, as the executor of the Butler estate, had to do was to petition the court for a reapportionment of the bequests to cover the cost of the chimes.  But whose bequest should be reapportioned?  The answer seemed obvious.  Roland filed the necessary papers with the Norfolk County Probate Court and Judge McCoole (really) approved the reduction of the bequest to Meadville by a sum to be determined by the First Parish Church in Beverly.

The Boyden brothers brought their proposal to the Annual Meeting of the Church in March 1931.  Members voted their approval of the project, and voted to close the Church for the summer to permit unfettered construction.  In an unusual move, they also voted to leave all details of the construction to the committee for the Chimes headed by the Boyden brothers, with regular progress reports to be made to the Parish Committee.

Money was not the only issue in front of the brothers.  You see, the Bells of First Parish occupied a special place in the life of the city.  Since the building had been first erected in 1772, its bell had served as the community clock, signaling the key parts of the day, and calling residents to worship on Sundays.  The bell rung at 9:00 to mark evening curfew was held particularly precious by the City, as it signaled the time when, by City ordinance, all youth had to be in their homes or risk being taken off the street by the police.  It was even generally believed that the bell and the clock were owned by the City.  This was such a sensitive issue that Albert decided it would be a good idea to attend a Selectmen’s meeting to inquire whether the City had any pretensions on the ownership of the current bell.  He did this by formally requesting that the City contribute to the cost of the new chimes.  The Selectmen, not interested in incurring additional expenses, quickly disavowed any ownership in the bells, but voted that, if the Church were to pursue the project, the City would be very grateful.  Thus, there was no oversight or approval required by the City for the installation or operation of the Chimes.

The bells were ordered from Charles Taylor & Co. in July, 1931 and work began on reinforcing the steeple.  The immediate concern was how the steeple would support an additional seven thousand pounds, the difference between the weight of the Revere bell and the new Chimes.  An architecture firm analyzed the structure and determined that it could handle the new chimes but leaving the Revere bell in place would put an unreasonable amount of stress on the structure.  The old bell would have to go.  The Taylor foundry modified the design of the Chimes so that the largest bell could be rung manually. The old Revere bell was given to the Immanuel Church on Bridge Street and it hung in their steeple until the early 1970s when a fire destroyed the Church.  It is said that the bell fell from the steeple during the fire and hit the concrete basement floor with a final peal that could be heard through the city.  The damaged bell was eventually mounted in a monument that can be seen today next to the new Immanuel Church on Bridge Street.

Even with the Revere bell removed, the Steeple had to be reinforced to hold the additional weight.  A new cross beam was installed at the base of the steeple to stabilize the structure.  You can see the beam above the balcony seats.

Since 1835, a clock had prominently displayed the time on the steeple of the Church.  A novel construction for its time, the old clock was of wooden construction, powered by the weight of cannon balls that had been found years before under the Church.  Since the new chimes could be synchronized with an electric clock, the Taylor Foundry included one from the Seth Thomas Clock Company.

The Bells arrived at the Beverly Depot early in October, 1931.  There were eight bells ranging in weight from the “low E” bell at 2500 pounds down to the “high E” bell at 364 pounds.   It seemed that at last all the hard work of the brothers would be finished.  Roland took a personal interest in the construction work, carefully watching the work progress and giving direction as required.  The chimes were almost complete by the end of October, and were set to play for the first time in public on the sixteenth of November during a dedication service at which the whole town was invited to attend.

That was before the death of Roland W. Boyden at the First Parish Church Sunday service.

Although many obituaries were written and many and eulogies spoken from coast to coast to celebrate the life of this great statesman and public servant, there was never any acknowledgement of his part in the installation of the First Parish Chimes.  His role was never written into the records of the First Parish, and never appeared in the local papers.  But Albert knew.

During the funeral service held at First Parish Church on the 28th of October 1931, Albert asked a musician friend go up into the newly rebuilt steeple.  The Chimes could not yet be rung automatically, but, on cue, the musician manually struck the bells to play a hymn.  Thus, the first time the Chime was ever rung it was to toll for its own maker.

The chimes have served the Parish well, but over eighty years they, like everything and everyone else, have aged.  In the 1980s the chime mechanism deteriorated to the point where it could no longer be played and fell silent.  A few years ago, an anonymous donor allowed us to reconstruct the works and put the chimes back in operation.  They play every quarter hour to the delight of the City.

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