April 30, 2020
One Sunday at the conclusion of the 8 o’clock service at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Charlotte, bright sun flooded the east-facing entrance of the church through the open double doors. The Rev. David Cray greeted exiting parishioners and newcomers alike, engaging individuals with a familiar topic, or spontaneous conversation, however the spirit moved us and our individual steps out into the secular world. Uncertain as to when this specific subject came up, perhaps midway between Cray’s arrival in 2003 (“Welcome Father David Cray,” “The Hinesburg Record,” October 2003) and today, I heard him talking of a refurbishment to the church’s bell and belfry. This piqued my interests, realizing the bell couldn’t have been homegrown, homemade or homespun. Next, I wondered if it was known where the bell was cast, and so I popped the question on my way out. Father answered “Troy, New York” without hesitation. And life went on.
Cray’s predecessor, the Rev. Ragis (who like Cray was similarly appointed as the pastor of two parishes before him: St. Jude the Apostle Church in Hinesburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Charlotte), would shorten his title in jest and refer to leading the two parishes ensconced in the picturesque set of rising ridges between Lake Champlain and Camel’s Hump, as “Pastor of Lottenburg,” imparting a bit of drama to his explanation.
Out of necessity the parishes began having Sunday Mass at each of the churches on an alternating schedule. Attending the 8 a.m. Mass at Our Lady has early morning appeal in addition to being in a unique chapel-sized church near nascent crossroads in East Charlotte where earlier communities gathered in simpler times. The 150th commemorative book (1858-2008) of Our Lady of Mount Carmel recalls the church’s earliest years, which begin with the acquisition of a disused Quaker Meeting House in Starksboro that was moved to Our Lady’s location on Spear Street just up from “Baptist Corners.” A pittance of federal highway dollars funded an interpretive roadside sign planted above the green at the turn to Spears Corner Store which attributes the name “Baptist Corners” to a Calvinist Baptist Church built in 1807, rebuilt in 1839, and later merged with the Congregational Church in 1943. The church still stands, beginning a curious row of three church-like edifices on the west side of the road, with the Grange No. 398 structure of 1897 holding the middle. The former Baptist Church, stained glass windows and all, is currently a private residence.
“The History of Our Lady of Mount Carmel” by Carol Novick, and updated by Frank Thornton, informs us that Pastor Fr. Pierre Campeau is credited with adding Our Lady’s bell tower and purchasing the church bell in 1884. The design is similar to the projecting bell tower of the One-Room Schoolhouse (1840) relocated from Vergennes to the Shelburne Museum. The 150th commemorative book informs us that the bell, made of bronze, was cast in 1885 and shows a photo of the bell’s inscription bathed in sunlight while the bell hangs in place in the open-air belfry. The inscription consists of cast lettering where “Charlotte” appears above a cross while two lines “Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel” and “Given by the Congregation of Charlotte” appear below. The raised letters “N.Y.” appear tattoo-like in the sunlight on the right arm of the husky iron bell yoke while “Troy” is thought to be in shadow on the left arm.
Once casually researching the genesis of a large bell displayed by the sidewalk at UVM, between the Royall Tyler Theatre and the Old Mill building, years after Father Cray said “Troy, NY” I stumbled across the legacy of the Meneely Bell Foundries.
Andrew Meneely and two sons are associated with the West Troy (Watervliet, New York, today) bell foundry beginning in 1826. A third son, Clinton H. Meneely, began operation in 1870 on the opposite side of the Hudson in Troy, New York. The two foundries were competitors, both closed in 1952.
The Meneely foundries produced 65,000 bells, ranging in size from super large bells to chimes.
The Meneely Foundry produced the replacement of the original Liberty Bell for the 1876 Centennial. Not meant to be a replica, this bell intentionally weighed 13,000 pounds, one ton for each of the country’s 13 original states. Meneely foundry ledger entries on record for bells destined for Vermont locations include the Berlin Center Congregational Church, Wilder Center, St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Rutland, Brattleboro Union High School and Williston Town Hall.
Another sign that the bell of Our Lady is a Meneely Foundry bell is the conical rotary yoke and attached rope wheel which can be partially viewed from the ground, the works are no loftier nor out of scale with the small bells mounted on roof ridges of old farm houses scattered throughout the hills and vales of the community. Although round as a wagon wheel the rope wheel has asymmetrical spokes to enable installation and replacement. “A swinging [Meneely] bell required a rope wheel larger than the longest dimension of the floor space required for the factory supplied timber base upon which the side supports was mounted.”If the season, day or the moment was right for a personal anecdote, a token life experience in his homily, or some light humor after the conclusion of Mass, Cray would share one. One memorable morning he shared hearing voices coming from the fan in the rectory on Spear Street. We stood stock still until he next explained the voices had British accents and that the source of the stray broadcast phenomenon was certainly the neighboring BBC radio tower facility further up the road and across on Spear.
In addition to Rev. Cray’s administrative apostolic roles, he’s otherwise always been engaged on many levels within our community and elsewhere, such as head of the Society of St. Edmunds and at Saint Michael’s College, to name a few. We know he’d rather stay put but other duties call. We’ll miss him.