First Baptist Church of Marietta tower slated for October completion

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Jul. 31—Sixty years after First Baptist Church of Marietta saw its bell tower condemned and torn down, a new bell tower will occupy its perch overlooking the Gem City in a few months.

Just as it is scheduled for completion, the church's pastor will be retiring after 15 years in the pulpit.

It is a "great retirement gift," said First Baptist Church Pastor Bill Ross of the tower, a roughly $730,000 project paid for with funds raised by the church community.

Ross will leave his post as the church's head by the end of October, the same time construction, which began last year, is supposed to finish. Ross hopes it is done before his tenure ends.

The church occupied a different building in the years after its founding in 1835, according to Clair Crissey, the church's media center director.

"The building on Kennesaw Avenue was built in 1848 and was occupied by our church until 1897," Crissey said. "It did have a cupola and a bell...The bell was appropriated by the Confederate government."

When it moved to its Church Street location, First Baptist had a tower for its first 65 years in the new building.

Crissey noted the original tower never had a bell.

"According to oral history, the architect said that because of the marble veneer the tower could not support a bell," Crissey said.

The first tower of the contemporary church building stood until 1962, when engineers condemned it due to structural damage and ordered it dismantled, according to Ruth Wagner Miller's history of the congregation, "First Family Memoirs."

"When I first came here ... I can remember one of the first church-in-conference meetings, a church member asked, 'Do you think we'll ever have a bell tower?'" Ross said. "For me, I was like, 'I don't know,' I had no idea what they were talking about."

Ross said that for many of the church's lifelong members, the tower "has a great deal of significance."

For younger members, like Marietta attorney Justin O'Dell, who chairs the church's Board of Deacons, the tower is also an exciting addition.

"I think it's fantastic both for the congregation and the community," O'Dell said. "It restores the church to its intended state."

O'Dell called it the "proverbial icing on the cake" of a larger capital improvement project for the church that began in late 2019 and saw more than $5 million raised for church renovations.

"Now, to be able to have bells ring on Easter morning, to have bells ring on Christmas morning, that's a great thing for both the congregation and the community," O'Dell said.

Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin called the tower a welcome return to the city, a revitalization of its architectural history and an addition to Marietta's historical value.

"Additionally, the chimes and music will be appreciated," Tumlin said.

Ross said the new tower will not have a traditional church bell, but a carillon, a musical instrument with at least 23 bronze bells that are played using a keyboard that strikes them. The church's carillon will be electronic and it "has probably a better sound than any bells, and it will play pretty much anything that we want it to play."

The church will coordinate with others in the vicinity that also play bells, Ross said, and it will listen to the wishes of Marietta officials for when to play. However, he hopes that sound from the revamped tower becomes a daily occurrence.

The tower will also be made of a lighter material than the distinctive granite of the church's outer façade.

"It's gonna be a faux material that's going to match it, but it's not as heavy as the granite, and that's what we've been having to wait on," Ross said, noting that construction, which began more than a year ago, has been delayed by supply chain issues.

The church tower is attached to the chapel, the church's original sanctuary, and in the same spot that it occupied for more than half a century. Ross said the chapel has not been regularly used while construction on the tower has gone on, but he expects the number of weddings and funerals held there to pick back up once construction is completed.

"I think the music, the sounds that'll come out of (the tower), will be a present for the community," Ross said. "They will appreciate it. It's not going to be obnoxious. It will be aesthetically pleasing."

Amy Reed, director of the Marietta History Center, is a fan.

"We fully support any kind of historic preservation that happens in our town, especially when they're really trying to focus on the original integrity, the original architecture and look of the building," Reed said. "I think that's so important to maintaining historic Marietta."

Ross said that while he may not be pastor, he will still be living in Marietta when the tower, for decades a landmark overlooking Marietta, makes its long-awaited return.