The Beauty of a Bell

Just imagine a misty morning in the mountains. You may see birds flying in the clouds painted beautiful colors by the dawn, and you hear a bell tolling in the distance.

If you lived in Cades Cove, or any other community 100 years ago, the sound of a bell pealing through the air caught your attention. You’d stop whatever you were doing to listen.

A bell could signal a birth, a wedding, a death…so many life events were heralded by the ringing of a bell.

Nowadays all we have to do is scroll through social media to “hear” about our community’s announcements. But there’s something about the sound of a bell that is nostalgic and beautiful.

Gloria Motter, the director of the Cades Cove Museum wanted to be sure the museum featured a working bell just like the people in Cades Cove would have heard. She found this bell at an estate sale in Johnson City. Even though it isn’t native to the cove, it is similar to what would have been there.

The bell was brought to the museum, but it needed a stand to be put on in order for someone to ring it…that’s where my daddy, Donny Abbott, came in.

He is a very talented craftsman specializing in blacksmithing. And as the bell stand shows, he’s pretty good at welding, woodwork, and etching. Blacksmithing is an old art and my father has been interested in the historical craft for nearly 15 years.

He started learning at Fort Loudoun State Historical Park, where he and I started reenacting as volunteers. Fort Loudoun was an 18th century French and Indian War fort. Once a month volunteers get together to portray daily life in a British fort. I loved reenacting as a little girl, and my daddy learned how to blacksmith the traditional way. (Meaning no electricity or new-fangled machines.)

Since he began learning how to forge S-hooks and fire steel sets, he’s broadened his repertoire to include knives, swords, hinges, and now…bell stands.

My father took the measurements, and after collaborating with Stephen Weber, president of the Cades Cove Preservation Association, and Richard Anderson, treasurer, he came up with a design that would be a perfect fit for the old bell.

He made a sturdy stand out of one-inch square steel, and added an artistic twist in the body of the design. The stand itself is 3 feet tall, with the wooden base 2×3 feet. He forged the steel and welded it all in his shop. He made a plaque out of copper etched with ferric chloride that reads: “CCPA 2019 by P. Don Abbott, Jr.” He even made the cart to deliver the bell and to transport it to and from events. He didn’t take enough credit for the cart…but it is really beautiful and looks like a nice tool straight out of 19th century Cades Cove. (All the materials except the steel was repurposed from what he had on hand in his shop. Another old-timey skill is using what you already have and recycling materials!)

My father Donny is a descendant of Russell Gregory, John “Baldy” Myers, and Absalom Abbott of Cades Cove. He is responsible for my interest in history and he always encouraged me to read and learn for myself. He and I share the same passion for preserving tradition, especially the history of our people in East Tennessee.

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