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Bell removed from steeple as Conway church still assessing tornado damage

  • The Rev. Candi Ashenden of the United Congregational Church in Conway and Colton Stebbins of Campbell Iron Works with the church’s bell hanging from a crane Monday morning. The Feb. 25 tornado knocked the bell off its stanchions as the tower separated from the main structure by 4 inches. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The United Congregational Church in Conway's bell is secured Monday morning after being removed from the steeple. The February 25th tornado knocked the bell off it's stanchions as the tower separated from the main structure by 4 inches. May 1, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • The bell is removed from the steeple of the United Congregational Church in Conway Monday morning. The February 25th tornado knocked the bell off it's stanchions as the tower separated from the main structure by 4 inches. May 1, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • “The other tornado victim,” a humorous reference to “The Wicked Witch of the East” from the “Wizard of Oz” lies beneath the porch of the United Congregational Church of Conway. Contributed Photo/Candi Ashenden



Recorder Staff
Monday, May 01, 2017

CONWAY — Months after a Feb. 25 tornado ripped through Pumpkin Hollow, damaging structures and destroying one barn, a large crane could be seen Monday morning removing the bell from United Congregational Church of Conway’s historic building.

The bell, cast in 1885 and knocked off its stand to the bell tower floor by 80 to 110 mile per hour winds during the storm, was removed for safety reasons. A system used to toll the bell was also damaged.

“The insurance company was doing an internal and external damage assessment, and they discovered the bell tower had shifted 4 or 5 inches away from the church,” said the Rev. Candice M. Ashenden, the church’s pastor.

Immediately following the discovery, Ashenden said the insurance company “halted everything until engineers can come out” and the bell was scheduled for removal.

“The balcony ceiling and bell tower have separated,” she continued. “They need to determine how to get in there safely — we’re very much still in the process.”

There’s no timeline for when the insurance company will have hard figures about monetary damages to the building, valued at $1.6 million. Ashenden said the bell, which “tolled one last time on the way down,” will be covered and stored on-site for now, with hopes to return it to the tower some day.

Since the tornado, the congregation has been meeting Sundays in the Grammar School’s library — in “high spirits,” Ashenden said.

“We’ve received an amazing amount of donations from area churches,” she said, noting donations from churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, including an Amherst youth group held a bake sale donating “every penny,” and “a number of homemade cards” providing a “personal touch that has meant so much to us. That definitely helps us feel like we’re not alone.”

A touch of humor

Even though the local church’s building was damaged in the storm, congregation members are finding ways to laugh.

Two black and white striped legs garbed in ruby red slippers stick out from beneath the church’s porch, a humorous reference to the demise of the fictional “Wicked Witch of the East,” who perished beneath Dorothy’s house after a tornado in “The Wizard of Oz” movie starring Judy Garland.

Above the witch’s legs is a sign that reads “the other tornado victim.”

“We felt that in the midst of it all we’re going to find joy and humor. It was put there in the hopes that we could help lighten folks’ spirits in the wake of the tornado,” Ashenden said, noting the idea came from congregation member Michele Novak, inspired by the 1939 movie.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

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On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo