Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Him, the Church Bell Tolls; Worshiper Sees Historic Bell Restored

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Him, the Church Bell Tolls; Worshiper Sees Historic Bell Restored

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland, Times-Union staff writer

The old brass bell lay at the bottom of the ocean until finding a new resting place in the steeple of St. Nicholas Park Christian Church.

But for more than 45 years, it never tolled the call to worship. Until now.

A few months ago, longtime member R.A. Tyre decided he wanted to hear the bell ring before he died.

So Tyre, who will be 85 in April, paid for the bell to be cleaned and the mounting repaired.

On a recent Sunday, its rich timbre was heard for the first time in decades. Tyre, sitting in his wheelchair decorated with a University of Georgia logo, did the honors.

"We built a ramp for him, and he had a smile on his face from ear to ear as he rang the bell," said the Rev. Ben Brown, pastor of the church at 3226 Beach Blvd. "He said that if you've got a bell in a church, it ought to ring."

Since then, Tyre spent some time in the hospital, but Brown's granddaughter and her Sunday school class rang the bell again on his behalf.

For many years, the 100-pound bell was carried in the bow of the Dixie Crystal, a ship that ferried sugar, cigars and rum from Cuba to Jacksonville after the Civil War. In 1928, the ship went down in a bad storm off the coast of St. Augustine, Brown said. In 1935, the bell was recovered in a diving operation.

Some time later, the bell was purchased by a man who donated it to St. Nicholas Park in memory of a loved one. However, the church's original white wooden sanctuary wasn't big enough to house the bell, and it was placed in storage.

The sanctuary was built in 1920 in what was then swamplands with little more than scrub oaks and a few hog farms. It was the first Protestant church to cross the St. Johns River into that area of the Southside and served as a navigational marker, Brown said.

Indeed, he said, members earned money for the church by selling three pieces of fried chicken and a biscuit for a quarter to riders who had crossed the ferry and were waiting for the train to the beach.

When the current Spanish mission-style building -- which resembles the Alamo -- was completed in 1953, the bell was installed in its tower. …

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