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Bell Tells Hidden Tale of Buffalo Presbyterian Histroy

Buffington Builders of Leon replaced the Buffalo Presbyterian Church belfry with new roofing on Saturday, February 18.

The Town of Buffalo, having been in existence since 1837, radiates history. Visitors to the town’s Historic Square view three structures that were built more than 150 years ago — Buffalo Academy (1849), Buffalo Presbyterian Church (1857), and Buffalo Methodist Church (1870).

Those who eye the Presbyterian Church today (February 23, 2023) will not see a belfry. The belfry is gone; it has been claimed by weather and time.

Richard Howard and other members of the church did not learn that the belfry was beyond repair until about one year ago. Contractors informed Howard that removal was the only option. If no action were taken, the bell would eventually come crashing down. The bell and belfry were a safety issue.

The bell had announced worship time each and every Sunday, year in and year out. Howard first heard its call thirty years ago when he and his family moved to Buffalo from Greenbrier County. On occasion, he had been the one who ascended into the 1857 slave loft that sets below the belfry to pull the rope.

The bell last welcomed worshipers in 2020. The pandemic and the issuance of a state of emergency caused unwanted silence. The last to ring the bell was Wayne McKeever in early 2020. In 2022, Presbyterian U.S.A. transferred ownership (and liability) to Historical Square Community Church. Howard stated that the doctrine of Historical Square Community Church is more in keeping with the traditions that prompted the formation of the Buffalo Presbyterian Church than with present day Presbyterian U.S.A. doctrine. McKeever and Howard, acting as trustees, addressed the liability issue by employing Buffington Builders to remove the belfry and make needed repairs.

After Buffington removed the bell, it was discovered that it was manufactured in Cincinnati by VanDuzen/Buckeye in 1873, some 16 years after the founding of the church. The VanDuzen Bell Company is now the Verdin Company which continues to produce bells. Wayne’s wife Sue was able to obtain a copy of the record of a May 26, 1873 transaction from Verdin in which Rev. W. E. Hill purchased a 202 lbs. bell for $105.20 for Buffalo, W. Va. Presbyterian Church.

Howard reported that the area beneath the belfry reveals that the roof of original 1857 structure was cut into and removed for the construction of the belfry. Debris from the belfry includes wood shakes from the original roof.

Howard stated that there is no plan to rebuild and restore the belfry to its former dimensions. The future of the bell is certain in that it is destined to ring again but uncertain as to its supporting structure.
Buffalo Historical Square Community Church conducted a fundraiser in October which generated a portion of the revenue needed to preserve the original church and its furnishings. Future fundraisers include a dine in/take out spaghetti dinner at the church on March 11 and a craft fair featuring numerous vendors on April 1.

Visitors to the church step back into the Nineteenth Century. It was a time when women and children sat separately from men. The separate entrances speak to that tradition. The pews are original, having served generation after generation. In addition to the furniture, visitors may inspect a collection of 19th century hymn books and catechisms, church history books, original ledgers from 1856-1949 and a session book from 1856, Sunday school attendance from 1952-61, song books from 1867-1876, an 1858 Bible and book of order, and Minutes from 1896-1945.

The church welcomes help in preserving the history of this time. Donations can be made through Paypal on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100086235056019

The bell is currently on display in the church fellowship area.
The interior of the church.
This shake served as roofing for the 1857 church.
The adz markings on this timber from the belfry is clearly visible.
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