From 1949 to the early 1980s, the arrival of a huge Christmas bell was a clear signal to Haverhill’s citizens that the holiday season was on its way. The bell, with lights strung all around it, hung above the plaza in Washington Square. Built by a metal fabrication instructor at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, it featured a horn speaker inside that produced ringing sounds that city residents associated with the hustle and bustle of shoppers on the streets.
The fate of that original bell remains unknown. Various Haverhill residents who were around when it disappeared cite wildly different stories: that it fell off the truck on its way to Washington Square and shattered; that it was stored at Winnekenni Castle and was stolen from there; and even that it had been taken and buried in someone’s driveway in Pelham, N.H.
We may never know for sure what happened to the old bell, but thanks to the hard work of some dedicated community members, Haverhill residents were again able to ring in the holiday season last year. HC Media, the organization responsible for operating Haverhill’s public access television channels, ran a story about the missing bell on its regular “Haverhill Journal” program. It inspired show host Lindsay Paris to return the tradition to Washington Square.
It seems only fitting that the man Paris asked to build the new bell happens to be a successor of the original’s creator. With the help of his students, current Whittier metal fabrication instructor Stephen Palmer created a new bell that made its debut at the annual Lorraine Post 29 VFW Santa Parade downtown.
Due to changes in building and safety codes, the bell could no longer be hung at its old location over Washington Square, so a new home was found suspended above Washington Street between Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurant and the now-defunct Haverhill Music Centre. With any luck, this new bell won’t disappear for quite a while, enabling residents of the Shoe City to welcome the “most wonderful time of the year” with their very own jingle bell.