Laurance Hearne Armour Memorial Carillon

Staying true to my city, I’ve been doing some investigation on the carillon at Northwestern University. A few years ago Northwestern bought the buildings owned by the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. Included in those buildings were a chapel and a tower with a 35-bell carillon. These bells have changed hands more than once…so our story will start with Grace Episcopal Church in the Loop in the early twentieth century. In 1901, Grace Episcopal Church in the Chicago Loop (downtown) purchased a set of nine bells from Meneely of Troy, New York. The lowest bell was a G at 2010 lbs. The Lay-Clinch Memorial Chimes were donated by Mr. and Mrs. R. Floyd Clinch. The church was ruined by fire in 1915, as shown in the Chicago Tribune picture below, although the tower and chime survived.

Grace Episcopal Church, Chicago, 1915
Grace Episcopal Church, Chicago, 1915

The parish built a new chapel attached to their hospital, St. Luke’s, in 1924. The new chapel had no room for the chime, so the parish gave it back to the original donors. Within a few years, the Clinch’s gave the chime to the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and they built a tower to accommodate it. The year of the gift is unknown, but it probably took place between 1924 and 1928. We do know that an electric chiming mechanism was given by Mrs. Clinch to Seabury-Western in 1929 to ring the bells. The chime was expanded into a carillon in 1954. The lowest bell of the chime, the G bell, was kept as a swinging bell independent of the carillon. Two of the original chime bells were recast with the original inscriptions and incorporated into the new 35-bell carillon made by Petit & Fritsen. So maybe it’s a stretch to call this an expansion as opposed to a replacement. The electric chiming mechanism was also retained, and an additional mechanism was put into place so that twelve of the bells could be rung from below in the sacristy. What happened to the other six original chime bells? We don’t know. And the next time I go up there, I’ll have to find the two bells with the original inscriptions to see what they say.

The new carillon was donated by the Armour family in memory of Laurance Hearne Armour, Sr. The inscriptions on the bells read: “To the glory of God in loving memory of Laurance Hearne Armour, Sr., March 8, 1888 — December 29, 1952, presented by his wife Lacy Withers Armour and his son Laurance H. Armour, Jr.” It’s not clear of the connection between the Armour family and the seminary. In 1999 the carillon was restored by Verdin. In 2009 the property of Seabury-Western was bought by Northwestern University, while Seabury-Western used the buildings until 2012. The seminary moved its remaining offices to its national headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America near O’Hare Airport. Afterwards, Northwestern University renovated the buildings through 2014. May the bells keep ringing under their new owners!

Northwestern University tower
Northwestern University tower, Evanston, 2015

I’m deeply indebted to Carl Zimmerman of Tower Bells Supersite, Newland Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, Bob Doak of Bexley Seabury, and Rev. Edward Curtis from Grace Place Episcopal Church of Chicago for providing me with information and research services on this topic. Thank you!

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