MINERAL POINT —
The bell will soon toll for the more-than-140-year-old United Methodist Church in Mineral Point – specifically, the bell that’s swung in the church’s belfrey for over a century. This bell – which survived the church’s total destruction, twice – will ring for the final time this month, as the church doors will be closing for good on Dec. 29.
Citing a dwindling congregation and consequent lack of wherewithal, Sybil Reighard, a 78-year member, said the church will merge with Summit Chapel along William Penn Avenue, roughly 2 miles away in Wesley Chapel.
“Financially, it’s hard to keep it up,” she said.
She said the congregation size hovers around 15 members.
“If everybody that belonged would come, it would probably be 20. Some days, we have five.”
When the Front Street church was first built by Mineral Point residents in 1873, 79-year churchgoer Harriet Conway said there were about 30 homes in Mineral Point. She said the village hasn’t grown much since then. When the 1889 Flood hit Mineral Point, it took much of the town with it.
“It come down through Mineral Point like a wall of water,” said Gary Reighard, an 83-year member.
“The pressure from that wall of water just split their homes in two. ... It took almost 90 percent out of Mineral Point.”
According to church records, United Methodist was swept off its foundation and carried down the river. The bell, however, was recovered in the Woodvale section of Johnstown. Reportedly, the bell was tolling as it drifted downstream, as if crying to be rescued.
The bell was returned to the congregation, and the church was rebuilt in 1890. Emanuel Reighard, grandfather to cousins Gary and Harriet, was instrumental in its reconstruction.
The church withstood the 1936 Flood, but was claimed by fire in 1945. A new church, costing $25,000 and brick-built, was dedicated in 1949.
Throughout it all, the bell still tolled atop the church’s steeple.
Gary recalled, in his youth, his grandfather ringing it twice on Sunday to let denizens know that the service was about to begin.
“One was to get your people up and the second was ‘get up here,’ ” he said with a laugh.
The bell has been offered up for display at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. Conway said members are arranging to have it removed from the belfrey.
“This was the hub of everything,” Conway said solemnly, but with pride.
Thirty years ago, nearly all Mineral Point residents were related in some way, Sybil said – family groups dotting the quiet, secluded Front Street for decades, the river at their backs.
And the church was right in everyone’s backyard.
“We always knew everybody,” Sybil said.
“This was a wonderful place to raise children. This was a wonderful place to live, growing up. Everybody watched out for everyone else’s child. It took a village to raise a child.”
The final service at United Methodist Church will be at 3 p.m. on Dec. 29. Conway said the bell might be on display in the sanctuary before it goes to the memorial so residents can pay their respects to a local icon that bound the community together for more than a century.
“It’s a sad feeling,” Sybil said.
“Most older people don’t want to see change. We sort of accept the change, even though it’s hard.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.