Only three downtown blocks separate the two bells. One bell is displayed outdoors in the sunshine; one bell is sequestered deep inside one of the most fortress-like buildings in Fort Worth.
Both bells are heavy with history.
Behold one of the oldest relics of Fort Worth. Lawrence Steele bought this bell—cast in London in 1782—for Fort Worth’s first hotel, which he opened in 1856 on the public square at Belknap and Main streets. He originally rang the bell to announce meal times for guests. But the bell came to have other uses in a frontier town. Fort Worth pioneer J. C. Terrell wrote of the bell: “It rang out the old year and rang in the new. It sounded the fire alarm, called to divine service, rang out merrily for weddings, and tolled dirges for the dead.”
During the Civil War the bell escaped being “drafted” and melted down to make cannon for the Confederacy. In 1871 Steele, who in 1855 had helped organize Masonic Lodge 148, the first in Fort Worth, donated the bell to his lodge to use at its hall and school. Lodge 148 has been custodian of the bell ever since.
Three blocks away, this three thousand-pound bronze bell is on display at the central fire station (Hedrick, 1930). When the city administration of Mayor John Peter Smith bought the bell for $700 in 1882, it was the largest fire bell in the state. From 1883 until 1912 it was rung in towers at two previous fire stations.
The bell’s first home was the 1883 wooden central fire station at 1206 Main Street.
On August 20, 1899 the Fort Worth Register announced that on August 21 the fire bell would be installed at the new stone central fire hall on Throckmorton Street at West 8th Street.
The 1899 fire station was a handsome building with a combination lookout/bell tower.
On July 10, 1900 the Register reported that the fire bell caused some of the fire horses to giddy up and go.
The fire bell was not rung just for fires. For example, it was rung in 1901 as the nation mourned the assassination of President McKinley.
The bell also was rung in celebration. In 1918 Fire Chief W. E. Bideker rang the bell for thirty minutes to celebrate the end of World War I.
The bell was last rung in 1938 for Bideker’s funeral. The bell was retired in 1939 when the 1899 central fire station was demolished.
After the bell was retired, originally it was on display in front of the 1938 City Hall, suspended from a wooden yoke and pillars made from lumber and stone from the 1899 fire station. But by 1950 that yoke was failing and was replaced by a solid one-ton redwood beam from a forest in California.
Other bells about town:
At Log Cabin Village, the bell of the one-room schoolhouse (1870s) that once was located in the community of Marine (as in Marine Creek) on today’s North Side.
Every December 31 at the Star-Telegram longtime reporter C. L. Richhart rang in the new year using his mother’s old school bell.
The bell of Union Pacific locomotive 844, which was in town in 2012.
Morning Chapel C.M.E. Church. The bell was cast by the Goulds Manufacturing Company of Seneca Falls, New York, founded in 1839.
Oakwood Cemetery chapel (1912).