The Belfry at Nashotah
From The Living Church, November 29, 1913, p. 160
THE dismantling of the old Belfry at Nashotah House has been watched with no little interest.
Probably the most popular thing at "The Mission" in the eyes at least of the streams of visitors and tourists who pass through the grounds in the summer time, is the old Belfry where hangs the big bell "Michael." The Chapel with its beautiful interior, so close by, the massive stone cloister of Sabine Hall, and the exquisite new Library may be overlooked, but not the Belfry. Perhaps it is because the Belfry is nothing if not rustic, and to visitors from town, glad to have escaped for a time from brick and stone surroundings, it naturally makes its appeal. As, surrounded by roses and overhung with clematis, it rises from the smooth-cut lawn, it has, no doubt, a charm of its own.
In historic association there are things much older, as there are things newer, very close by. Within a stone's throw is the old red chapel used in the early days of the Mission until, over fifty years ago, it was replaced by the stone chapel in use now, and equally near, the old "Blue house," the first building on the grounds, erected as a home for the missionaries in the midst of the wilderness Wisconsin was then.
Be this as it may, it is curious to note the attraction of the Belfry. The motor cars that come sweeping up the drive stop near the chapel door. The tourists get out. The ladies adjust their hats and shake out their skirts. Ah! They are going into the chapel, or into the library? Not at all. They are making straight for St. Michael!
See, they are grouping themselves in front of the Belfry door. One of the party steps out from the rest and moves a little away. Yes, he has a camera. They are going to have their pictures taken. There, that is over. They get in again now, and speed away happy.
Perhaps they do not care for such things, but there is an older bell than Michael hanging on the walls of the cloister. It has a history, too, as it was a gift of the Oneida Indians in the first days of the Mission, and was ringing out day by day over these lakes near forty years before Michael and his Belfry were heard of.
And yet the Belfry too is interesting. It was a great day at Nashotah when, on a superb autumn morning twenty-nine years ago this last Michaelmas, "Michael," having previously been put in place, was duly blessed. It was the opening day of the Seminary year. Visitors arrived on the early train, and after Matins in the chapel, assembled in large numbers on the grounds. Of those who took part in the service of blessing very many have now gone to their rest: Dr. Cole, the venerable President of the House, who, in his academic gown, received the guests; the Rev. Dr. Delafield, then of Terre Haute, who presented the bell in memory of his father; Bishop Seymour, of Springfield, who gave the sermon on this occasion at the newly erected "Preaching Cross" which was set up to mark the site of the original Altar; Bishop Burgess of Quincy, and many others. Among the clergy who were present was quite a young man, ordained priest only the week before, the Rev. Mr. Weller, now better known as the Bishop of Fond du Lac.
After the sermon at the Cross, the clergy, students, and visitors moved in procession to the chapel where the Holy Eucharist was celebrated by Bishop Welles, assisted by Bishop Seymour.
Regularly "Michael" has rung out from his tower from that day to this. Every morning he summons to the early Eucharist, and every evening to Evensong, at which the student body in surplices form the choir. He has been heard in joyous peals on certain occasions of joy, and many will remember the wild notes of alarm he sent forth when the destructive fire broke out in May 1910.
Summer visitors would doubtless be sadly distressed could they see their shrine in its present dismantled condition. Time and the weather have told upon the Belfry, and the heavy timbers close to the ground were becoming unsafe. The unsound parts have been removed and replaced with new timbers. As soon as tamaracks can be brought from the swamp, the now denuded Belfry will again be clothed in its rustic dress, and will await its stream of pilgrims when summer comes again.