An (Incorrect) History of the Georgetown Lutheran Bell in Pictures

The National Bell Festival has been thrilled to collaborate with the congregation of Georgetown Lutheran Church and the historic bell restoration specialists at B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry to bring new life to a rusty old bell. For decades, the bell has sat behind a few crumpled boxes, lauded for its history, but neglected in its care. 

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Georgetown Lutheran Church, we reached out to the congregation and offered to fund the bell’s restoration. We eagerly set to work. But in projects such as this, where time is measured not in years, but in centuries, historical fact can easily comingle with popular lore – and that has certainly been the case with this bell.

Take, for instance, this letter – written September 29, 1927, in good faith to the worthy postmaster of Aurora, West Virginia. Members of the congregation were looking to track down the late-1700s bell that had hung in the church’s original wood steeple on Wisconsin Ave. in Washington, D.C.

1927 Letter from Georgetown Lutheran Church to Recover Bell in West Virginia

Image: Letter from J. Frank Butts, attorney at law and member of the Georgetown Lutheran Church, to the postmaster of Aurora, West Virginia. 

The letter states with some fact that the bell was sent to a church in Aurora following a remodel of the building which rendered the bell redundant. Other chronicles of the time report the bell had been sold to pay off debts incurred in the Civil War. Still others suggest the bell had been whisked away and hidden before the war, so it could not be confiscated and smelted for armament. The jury is still out on which of these stories may be nearest the truth.

So here we are in 1927, with the church earnestly seeking to recover a long-lost and loved bell. Yearning for a tintinnabulation resounding over Georgetown, the congregation had, in the meantime, purchased and installed an electric carillon. But lo! Congregation member William H. Stombock resolutely drove to Aurora in 1937 and brought back a bell – heralded as the bell. It wasn’t

But that didn’t stop the presses. Newspaper reports of the time celebrated the bell’s return and described its cracked condition

1937 Washington Post Article on Georgetown Lutheran Bell Rededication

Image: A Washington Post article from November 29, 1937, reports the original bell, after residing in Aurora for more than 100 years, had finally returned to Georgetown Lutheran Church. It had not.

1939 Washington Post Article on Georgetown Lutheran Church 170th Anniversary with Bell

Image: The bell, pictured in a Washington Post article from October 9, 1939, chronicling Georgetown Lutheran Church’s 170th anniversary. 

While not the 18th-century bell it was celebrated to be, that middle- to late-19th-century bell was installed in the church’s garden on the corner of Wisconsin Ave. and Volta Pl. NW, in a purpose-built miniature steeple bearing a stone inscription to Mr. Stombock’s good gesture.

1943 Washington Post Article Showing Georgetown Lutheran Church Bell in Steeple

Image: The bell in the miniature steeple on Wisconsin Ave., pictured in a March 20, 1943, article for the Washington Post. In this telling, the bell had returned after 25 years in Aurora, West Virginia.

The bell remained in this post for several decades, until the structural integrity of the steeple came into question. Others say the bell’s removal from the steeple had more to do with cheeky Georgetown University matriculants who, on repeated dares, would try to heave the several-hundred-pound bell from its mounting and frame. For the bell’s safety and, one supposes, for the safety of the students, the bell was moved inside and relegated to storage. 

Until now! After a careful renovation funded by the National Bell Festival, the bell will take pride of place on a new wood and steel stand built to display the bell safely inside the church. We can’t wait until its clarion ring resounds once again for the people of Georgetown!


Georgetown Lutheran Church Bell Tower
Georgetown Lutheran Church

This article is part of a curated series on our work to restore the bell at Georgetown Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. Continue exploring:

The National Bell Festival would like to thank B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry for their exceptional work in preserving this bell of historic importance.