The bells of St. Andrew’s ring out to Destin

Pam Griffin
The original bell currently sits on a concrete pad in a flower bed just to the left and in front of the red doors at St. Andrew’s By-the Sea, while the bell tower rises toward the blue sky and white clouds over Destin.

“The Bells of St. Mary's

Ah, hear they are calling

The young loves, the true loves

Who come from the sea” — from “The Bells of St. Mary’s”

Inspired by the sounds of the bells at St. Mary’s Church in Southampton, England, Douglas Furber and A. Emmett Adams wrote the popular “The Bells of St. Mary’s” in 1917.

Locally, the bells of St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church ring out to inspire the people of Destin.

But about a year ago, lightning struck the bell tower, and the bells were silent for a while.

“It blew out the surge protector and burned wire from the speakers to the computer,” Fred Fenn, member of the church, told The Log.

Now, the bells are back, with a new amplifier, and ring every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and also on the half hour.

Eight to ten minutes of hymns are played at noon and also on special occasions. Hymns are selected based on the church calendar, with Easter hymns, Christmas hymns, etc.

“We play Christmas music during the Destin Christmas Parade and also have patriotic music playing on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and 9-11,” Fenn said. “On New Year’s, at one second after midnight, the bells begin to ring welcoming the New Year.”

The original bell was installed in the church bell tower in the early ’50s, soon after the tower was built. A placard on the bell states it is a memorial to Mrs. William H. Davison, who died Sept. 25, 1891.

However, that bell, weighing between 200 and 300 pounds, was removed from the bell tower (the steeple) in the fall of 2007.

“We had to remove it because the iron yoke that it was mounted on had gotten to a point that it had rusted away over the years from being subjected to the salty air which prevails in our community,” Fenn said.  “To remove the bell, my son Brad and I devised a series of ropes and pulleys which we attached to the top of the bell and lowered it down through the inside of the bell tower. It was then transported to the flower bed in front of the church where it was sanded, primed and painted to protect it from the elements. The clapper was removed and stored.”

 In December 2007, the Fenn family donated a carillon to the church. Fenn and his son installed the instrument, a set of bells played using a keyboard or an automatic mechanism.

“The bells and music are all programmed through a computer and everything is electronic — no more cast iron bells,” Fenn said. “The carillon was given in memory of my in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Murray Hetherwick.”

Fenn’s wife, Carol, grew up in Lafayette, La., and close to her home was St. John’s Cathedral, which had a carillon with real bells. 

“The bells were the neighborhood clock,” Fenn said. “For example, when the bells rang a certain number of times in the evening, it was time for the children to come in for dinner.  Carol’s mother and father often commented on how much they loved the bells of St. John’s and for that reason we gave the carillon to the church.”

Fenn hopes that the St. Andrew’s carillon will be heard by those living and working in the Destin harbor area, and that “it would become a positive part of their lives as it was to my in-laws and the neighborhood around St. John’s in Lafayette.”