Arlington Street Church

Hi there,

It’s been a while since I last posted, my apologies. I thought things would calm down after midterms, but they haven’t.

During the week of midterms, us architecture students were assigned  a research project. Eventually, we are going to have to do plan drawings, sections and perspectives. So far, we’ve only gotten to the writing portion. The building that I chose is Arlington Street Church on the corner of Boylston and Arlington Streets. It is opposite the public gardens in the Back Bay area of Boston, also known as the North End. My friend and I visited the church a few times and on our last time, we got an awesome personal tour of the church and the steeple. The Minister at large of the church even let us ring the bells in the bell tower. All 16 of them! Below is an excerpt from my essay.



George Whitehouse, Minister at Large, was kind enough to give a small group of us a tour of the church as well as the steeple. If one goes up to the organ and through several doorways, he or she will find himself or herself at the entrance of the bell tower. Minister Whitehouse gave us the opportunity to follow him up through various sets of tight ladders. First we went to where the church bells are rung. In this room, the original slate roof of the church is visible. At that point we were standing on a tin roof. The tin roof served one purpose. If for some reason water got into the room, it had to be impossible to seep down below as the roof protected the organ. Figure IV letter “A” indicates where we were standing.

Continuing up another set of ladders, one enters the room filled with bells. The 16 steeple bells, (the most in Boston) given by Deacon Phillips (“Arlington Street Church.” Web.). are all hand operated to this day. Up until Christmas Eve of 1960, the bells did not work. Earlier that year, Minister Whitehouse and his roommate decided to fix the bells and played them on Christmas Eve. On another memorable event  (10 year anniversary of the September 2011 attacks), the bells were rung 3000 times, once for each person lost in the tragedy. Each tuned bell or “chime” is solid bronze with iron claps (Figure II). The claps are attached to a pulley system that leads to a control area. There are 16 ropes that go through 16 telephone insulators. Telephone insulators were used, as they were frictionless and have remained that way for over 100 years.

Once one passes the room with the bells and continues up a couple of flights of ladders he or she has entered the clock room. The clock mechanics is also original to the church, however the face of the clock is not (it was changed in 1970). When the clock was first installed, it is said that it was worth approximately $150,000. The clock is quite impressive with its multiple gears and precision. Minister Whitehouse let us “go back in time” but also made us reset the clock!

If one goes out of the clock room, closes the trap door that goes down to the bell room and goes up another couple of ladders, he or she will now be 13 stories high (Figure IV letter “B”). The view is remarkable and one can see the Garden, the Convenant Church, Trinity Church and much beyond these landmarks. Amazingly, the climb to the top of the steeple is not over at that point.  However, Minister Whitehouse opted to not bring us up any further. When we looked up from where we were standing, we noticed four I-beams, in a square formation (Figure III). From these I-beams were multiple tip-over bars coming down and going through the flooring. Minister Whitehouse explained that the purpose of these tip-over bars was to hold down the steeple in windy conditions. Although one side of the steeple would want to rise off of it’s base, the ties would balance it out and not permit it to do so. Even with such witty construction, in 1958 various pieces of rock fell of the steeple and cracked the main steps on three different spots.

This concluded our once in a lifetime tour of the Arlington street church. We thank George Whitehouse for all his time and shared knowledge as it was all very beneficial.


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