Bells around York City ring to mark end of Civil War


After taking their turn ringing the bell at the Colonial Courthouse, one by one the bell ringers went outside to take in the sound of numerous York City church bells being rung as they marked the unofficial end of the Civil War.

"I'm happy with the participation," said Terry Downs, a local historian who organized about 10 churches in the city to take part.

Government buildings and York College also participated, he said.

The resounding sound of bells on Thursday was part of a nationwide effort, called Bells Across the Land, by the National Park Service to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender of his Army of Northern Virginia to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

"Lee's surrender was seen by the nation as the decisive action that finally brought four years of national division and conflict to an end," said Mayor Kim Bracey at a ceremony at the courthouse.

The war, fought from 1861 to 1865, came to an official end in May.

Ringing: Jim Driskell, pastor at First St. John's Lutheran on West King Street, said he was part of a four-man crew that rang the bells at the church.

And he and the three people who helped out did it the old fashioned way — pulling a long rope in the church steeple.

"To get it going you had to put some effort into it," Driskell said. "Once you got it going, you had to get in the rhythm of it."

Downs' 12-year-old daughter, Aaren, also had a hand in sounding the bells at First Moravian Church on North Duke Street.

"I had to pull it down hard," she said. "It was a lot of fun."

Terry Downs took in the clattering orchestra from her perch atop the Yorktowne Hotel on East Market Street, where she was able to hear most of the bells sounding in the city.

The bells rang for four minutes, one minute for each year the war was fought.

Chiming in: After articles about the event appeared in local newspapers, Downs said he was contacted by churches in all corners of the county saying they also were planning to take part.

"I think it was really neat and something we can do again in York" to mark other historic milestones, he said.

Though Thursday's event marked the unofficial end of a bloody conflict fought to bring freedom for everyone, work toward a just and equal society in this nation would continue for decades, Bracey said.

"Over the next 100 years the nation would continue to work and, at times, fight for the collective rights for all American citizens defined and established as the result of the Civil War," she said. "Although this work is not done, today we still honor and commemorate those (who) paid the ultimate sacrifice."

— Reach Greg Gross at