One of the most
notable features of Station 1 is a bell tower that highlights the front facade.
Nestled in the tower is a 125 year old bell. The Naylor Vickers Co., in
Sheffield, England cast the bell in 1880. It weighs about 1400 pounds, is
46 inches in diameter, and is 56 inches tall, in its carriage. The Naylor
Vickers Company only cast bells for about twenty years, stopping production due
to problems with the quality of steel in the 19th century. They did cast a
large bell (nearly eight feet in diameter) for the San Francisco Fire Department
to use as an alarm bell. The Naylor Vickers Company is still in business
and was the manufacturer of fighter planes during both World Wars.
The bell's journey
to Martinsville began with a casual comment by James Guerra, Station 1
architect. He had included a bell tower from the very first design and it
was readily accepted as part of the '"look" of a firehouse. Since the Fire
Department did not own a bell, the search was on to locate a bell that would
grace the tower. After several dead ends, Mr. Guerra provided information
about a possible candidate.
On East Jersey
Avenue in Elizabeth, New Jersey, stands a building that was once the home of the
Third Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth. The congregation had long since
left the building and, after sitting abandoned for several years, the building
was purchased by Marlowe Ferguson, who converted it into the Elizabeth
Playhouse, a rather off, off, off Broadway theater. Despite the damaging
effects of weather, vandalism, and salvage, the original bell still hung in the
church tower. After a brief description of the firehouse project and the
need for a bell, Mr. Ferguson agreed to donate his bell, with two conditions.
The Fire Department had to move the bell, absorbing any expense associated with
the move, and attend a performance of the Elizabeth Playhouse.
insisted that the volunteers visit the bell in the tower before they accepted
the donation. The climb upward to the bell entailed one staircase,
climbing up one level of scaffold staging, and several ladders, each one more
rickety than the last. Finally, after pushing open a small hatch five
levels above the ground, the bell stood, surrounded and encrusted in 100 years
of pigeon droppings!
Plans were quickly
made to move the bell and move it back to Martinsville. Many trips were
taken up in the tower to measure, plan and brainstorm until a scheme was hatched
to recover the bell. With the lack of headroom above the bell, it was
necessary to laterally move the bell about ten feet, in order for the crane to
lower it to the street. No small task, given the bell weighed an estimated
An intrepid band of
members, the "Bell Team", arrived early on a Saturday morning and constructed a
timber carriage way to the edge of the tower. Every timber, tool, and pipe
had to be carried up the many levels of the church tower, one at a time, and it
took longer to assemble the needed materials than to actually move the bell!
Fortunately, almost half of the pigeon droppings (nearly three feet) had been
removed which assisted in the placement of the timbers. Once everything
was in place, the frame on which the bell slowly rolled to the tower opening.
Two weeks later, on
a Sunday morning, the "Bell Team" again assembled in Elizabeth and met a crane.
After some precarious moments, the bell swung free of the former church bell
tower and was placed on a truck for the trip to Martinsville. The bell was
taken to Station 2, and then moved to Linden, where it was sand blasted and
painted. The following Spring, the "Bell Team", moved the bell to the new
firehouse and, in a steady rain, installed the bell in the tower. Shortly
after the bell's installation, members of the Fire Department and their spouses
boarded a bus and attended an excellent performance at the Playhouse.