It was a jubilant moment in Mankato in 1918. The bell of the First Presbyterian Church, at the intersection of Hickory and Broad streets, rang out to signal that the Armistice Agreement of 1918 brought the First World War to an end. Men from Blue Earth County serving in the military in Europe would soon be back home!
The Free Press reported November 11, 1918, “First news of the end of the war and the dawn of peace after four years of struggle was spread in Mankato this morning by the ringing of the famous ‘Liberty’ bell which has pealed forth the notes of joy and sadness in the city since 1857.”
On November 11, 2018, on the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, this same bell will ring again in remembrance of those soldiers and marines who served their country in the place known as “Over There.”
The ringing of the bell will also recognize the sacrifice of local residents who had loved ones who were killed or wounded in this horrible war far from Minnesota in some of the worst conditions imaginable.
On November 11, 2018, on the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, this same bell will ring again in remembrance of those soldiers and marines who served their country in the place known as ‘Over There.’
This brass bell also rang out loud and clear as Mankato gained a reputation as a pioneer village bursting at the seams as more settlers, many bringing along children, arrived to make a home here for themselves. The bell served a community purpose, celebrated the end of the American Civil War, acknowledged the end of hostilities in the Spanish American War, and alerted settlement inhabitants of potential attacks during the brief Dakota war.
During the pioneer days and thereafter, the bell was used often for social, educational, political, judicial and political events. In the end, it was a church bell most often used to proclaim the starting of services at First Presbyterian.
“But, oh what a welcome sound was that church bell as it rang out on the first Sabbath I spent here,” reminisced a First Presbyterian Church member about her first days in Mankato in the late 1860s. “It told me in words louder than human tongue could, that God’s people lived in Mankato and that the bell on the levee was calling the people to divine worship even if they have no church building.”
At that time, the bell hung on a wooden frame placed near the Minnesota River Valley levee close by where East and old Front Streets met. The First Presbyterian Church, organized in 1855, is the oldest congregation and established church in Mankato.
But, oh what a welcome sound was that church bell as it rang out on the first Sabbath I spent here.
As church membership rose and fell, and the number of buildings in downtown grew steadily, church leaders and members were always on the move, seeking somewhere with a roof and the space to hold services.
After the Civil War, church leaders became concerned about the different forms of temptation bubbling to the surface in what remained a pioneer village. They took steps to help residents and visitors follow the scriptures and organize Christian-based activities and socials. The role of the first frontier churches in Mankato gained more prominence in the community.
When the church moved to a different location, the bell also moved with it. Finally, the church settled into its current location where the bell resides today in the church’s steeple.
The bell was a product of the G. W. Coffin & Co, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Carvings of Christian figures are clearly visible, circled around the bell’s shoulder. A carving of a sole angel appears in the metal yoke of the bell. Mankato’s Ladies Society of the Presbyterian Church purchased the bell in 1857 for approximately $300.
Even in 1918, the brass bell of the First Presbyterian Church had already earned the nickname, “The Old Bell.” Today, then, it must be known as the Really Old, Old Bell!
The community today is fortunate to have a piece of Mankato’s past still serving — clanging and echoing its rich sound among the old and new buildings of downtown Mankato for everyone to hear.