In 1817, a church was built in the center of Reading; the original church had a bell, but no clock.
In 1832, on his way to and from seminary in Andover, Samuel Francis Smith is said to have been inspired by our town and the bell and steeple of Old South to write these words in his “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”: “I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills, my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.”
In 1862, a clock was added to the structure.
In 1911, Old South Methodist Episcopal Church, as it was then called, burned to the ground. The chapel, the parsonage, and the nearby Centre School were saved. The church was rebuilt in 1912 to closely replicate the style of the church that burned down. [The architects were Willard Adden and Winthrop Parker of the Boston architectural firm Adden, Parker, Clinch & Crimp. Willard P. Adden and Winthrop D. Parker were Reading natives and Howard Clinch lived in Reading from the 1950s to 1965. Not only did they design Reading Memorial High School, a structure that has served the town of Reading for many years, but Adden, Parker, Clinch & Crimp also designed Reading Town Hall and the old Library (now connected to Town Hall), renovations to the Pearl Street School (now an assisted-living facility), Reading High School on Sanborn Lane (now condominiums) and the original Parker Middle School (of which only the interior of the auditorium remains).]
In 1912, the Reading Chronicle put out an appeal for donations, and the entire community of Reading rallied to raise $1,615 to install a clock and bell in the church’s steeple.
In 1913, a Seth Thomas clock (with illuminated dials on four sides) was purchased, along with a bell weighing 1,555 pounds, manufactured by the Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company of Troy, New York.
In 1983, the bell’s yoke and frame cracked for the third time. The Reading Lions Club raised $12,000 in a community-wide drive for funds to repair and maintain the bell and clock. (Prior to that fundraiser, the Town of Reading had paid for the maintenance on the bell and clockworks.)
The clockworks still require weekly winding--350 revolutions! The work is performed by Reading’s own Roberts brothers of Clockfolk of New England.
In 2012, a community-wide appeal for donations is being made in order to repair the Old South steeple and bell tower; $130,000 is needed to restore the structure to its original beauty.