Woodstock’s Keegan Bell set to be unveiled Nov. 5

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The Keegan Bell, revealed during the construction of the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center (formerly the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock) is about to return home. Originally donated by the children of Peter and Anna Clare Keegan to St. Joan’s in 1929, the Keegan Bell will be unveiled in its new setting next to the community center at 11 a.m. Saturday, November 5. The public is invited to join in the brief ceremony, rain or shine.

The Keegan Bell once rang out across Woodstock from atop St. Joan’s signaling calls to worship while also marking occasions of celebration and loss. The bell also represents a unique period in Woodstock history; a time when Irish stonecutters, including Peter Keegan, made their way to Woodstock to quarry bluestone along the base of Overlook Mountain. During the second half of the 19th century, such labor intensive efforts served as a primary element of Woodstock’s economy, requiring the craftsmanship and skill of quarry workers such as Keegan to draw the stone from the mountainside.

Construction of the bell’s new home featuring a layered bluestone pedestal beneath the protection of a cedar roof and restoration of the bell’s housing was undertaken over the course of the past summer and fall by Lorin Rose, Jim Hanson, Tom Unrath and Richard Heppner. A bronze plaque detailing the history of the bell and its significance to the Woodstock community has also been installed. Buried within the base of the bell’s pedestal is a time capsule offering more details on the bell, construction and restoration photographs, information on the relationship of the bell and St. Joan’s to Woodstock history and a list of those who contributed to the project. All materials, supplies and labor used in the effort were provided solely through contributions by the Woodstock community with support of the Woodstock Town Board and the Woodstock Highway Department.

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The bell was originally cast by the Meneely Bell Company in Troy, New York. Weighing in excess of 400 pounds, the Keegan Bell offers two “tone” settings. The first tone is associated with normal use when rung in celebration. The second setting produces a more mournful tone, normally associated with funerals and more somber occasions. Meneely bells can be found worldwide. Locally, company records indicate bells were cast for the Bard College Bell Tower and the Saugerties Lighthouse. A similar bell is also found in the Washington Chapel at Valley Forge. The Columbian Liberty Bell was cast by the Meneely Company for the World’s Columbus Exposition in Chicago in 1892.

For further information contact Woodstock town historian, Richard Heppner at woodstockhistory@hvc.rr.com.

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