If you are in the center of Deerfield at the stroke of the hour, all you have to do is listen and you might be able to figure out what time it is.
A bell hanging in the belfry at , 824 Waukegan Rd., has automatically chimed on the half hour and the hour between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. since November, 1966.
On Sundays and other special services, the bell is activated by the organist as needed during the worship service, according to Raymond Craig, a long-time church member.
The 9-1/2-ton brass bell holds a prominent role in First Presbyterian’s identity for it harkens the faithful to worship, and “for me it’s part of its (Deerfield’s) identity,” Suzan Hawkinson, the church’s senior pastor, said.
“In terms of architecture in Deerfield, (the church) is its most imposing structure,” Hawkinson said. “Not that many buildings tower over it and the sound from it is the Village’s heartbeat.”
Cast in Holland and made of brass, the 8-ton bell is the second that the church has had since its dedication on Aug. 14, 1877, according to church history. Founded by such Deerfield luminaries as Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Wilmot, from whence Wilmot Road got its name, First Presbyterian became the first church in Deerfield to offer services in English instead of German.
About 400 pounds and 30 inches wide at its outer edge, the first bell was cast by Rumsey & Co. of Seneca Falls, NY, according to Craig. The foundry primarily made horse-drawn fire engines, usually equipped with large cast iron bells that would sound so “People could get out of the way,” Craig said.
Cast-iron bells were sold to churches and schools as a byproduct to the business, according to a history of the church.
That bell rang out for 45 years and was transferred to a new building, which was dedicated in 1923. It remained in the tower until that building, by then called "The Chapel,” was demolished in 2007, according to information supplied by Craig.
Since 1923, five additions have been built, said Thom Cunningham, the director of education for the church.
In 1966, the bell was replaced by one cast at the firm Petit & Fritsen of Aarle-Rixtel, and, according to published reports, was the single largest tuned bell in the world. The bell, according to an article from a Dutch newspaper, was donated anonymously on the occasion of the church’s 90th anniversary.
But disaster nearly befell the effort to get it in the belfry. Because the belfry is as much as 80 feet high and the bell sits 10 feet from the top, according to Craig, a crane had to be used to get the bell upward.
In October, 1966, as the bell was being hoisted into Founders Tower, where it is housed, the final extension of the boom on the crane snapped, causing it to fall into the tower and pinning a workman in the tower itself. The workman sustained a broken leg.
Extensive damage was done to the structure, according to church history. The bell was hoisted again a month later and in September, 1967, Founders Tower was dedicated, according to church history.
In one other interesting tidbit of First Presbyterian Church history, a memorial service was held at the church in the late 1990s for Robert Lewis Bell, a longtime resident of the village. Who was he? The original Bozo the Clown.