The Bicentennial Bells in front of the Warren City Municipal Building and Fire Department. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

Pieces of the Past: The Bells Part 1

May 3, 2023

Joseph DeFrees was a great deal like Thomas Struthers. Both men loved Warren. Both invented valve systems for the flow of oil and other liquids. Both left behind a legacy of leadership and charity that continue to benefit us even to this very day!

Struthers left us the Library Theatre and the Market Street Library. DeFrees left a foundation that has directly supported a long list of community organizations and he gave us our bells!

There are 24 bells in several locations in Warren. To the best of my knowledge, his experience in bridge design helped him create the towers. the bells adorn. I don’t believe any of them have ever been rung since finding their home in our town. Each of the sites signifies something different. DeFrees originally had one site in mind. Once the project was completed, DeFrees decided that one just wasn’t enough!

I’m still learning about them and because of the significance behind the sites and where the bells came from; I’ll have to make this piece the first installment.

To be honest the bells by the Warren City building are the only ones that I ever really paid much attention to. Being from Warren myself it’s hard not to know they are there! They range in size from 5,500 pounds to 7,500. Where they came from is interesting too.

Eight of the bells are from a church in Buffalo that closed its doors several decades ago. Our Lady of Sorrows acquired them around 1884 from McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore. They were purchased from a salvage dealer by DeFrees and saved from being melted down. Think of it. How many members of that church responded to those bells? Instead of disappearing forever, they remain for all of us to appreciate and even wonder about. There were a number of sources for DeFrees to get bells. Some came from local fire departments that used them to call firefighters to an emergency.

One of the first projects for Mr. DeFrees was the structure he named the TRIAD. The 3 bells that hang in front of the City Buildings. That particular site was built to commemorate the Bicentennial in 1976. Also, I was surprised to learn that they were wired to be rung by remote control from the city building. If they have been rung. I missed the moment.

Photo by Brian Hagberg.

There are more bells all located at different sites. Of course, the TRIAD gets the most “press”. The final site is on Beech Street which was completed the year that Joseph DeFrees passed away. Various local and regional companies participated in the construction and installation of each display. Jeff Werener of Bill’s Welding shop did much of the work. Many of the towers were made using Corten steel. This particular steel will only partially rust. A patina forms on the outside and prevents oxidation deep into the steel.

Thanks to my brother Rick and his fiancee’ Paula for all the work they did to help me finish part one of this Piece of the Past.

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