Historic church bell is returned to Milford

The Myrtle Beach Community Church bell is home.

The story of the bell, its arrival in Milford and then its departure, goes like this.

On Sunday, Dec. 5, 1915, some young boys went to play with Arthur Burgess at his home at 12 Van Avenue in Myrtle Beach.

While waiting for him, one of them, Herman Schultz, noticed the large family bible on the table and asked Julia Burgess if they might look at the pictures in it. The nativity scene especially attracted their attention, perhaps because Christmas was fast approaching. Perceiving their interest, Julia told them the story of the birth of Jesus.

It was this storytelling session that led to the founding of the Myrtle Beach Community Church. The boys displayed such enthusiasm that she invited them back the following Sunday, urging them to bring friends.

On Sunday, Dec. 12, 1915, at 3 p.m., many more children showed up and a class immediately emerged. The attendance swelled so rapidly that soon it had outgrown the Burgess home, and permission was obtained to use the Hose House on Van Avenue, where the group met for the first time on March 5, 1916.

George and Julia Burgess were members of Mary Taylor Church near the green in the center of Milford. Julia was appointed the first superintendent of the Myrtle Beach Sunday School by the Rev. Andrew J. Martin of Mary Taylor Church, who went to assist in the teaching.

The Mary Taylor Church congregation contributed funds to assist the new venture. In those days transportation was not as easy as it is today, and the need for a Sunday school in the Myrtle Beach area seemed self-evident to the members of the church on the green.

Shortly before the close of his pastorate in 1918, Martin officially organized the Myrtle Beach classes in a Methodist Episcopal Sunday School.

The same year a portable World War I chapel was purchased for $1,000 as a temporary structure, and was erected on the corner of Maple Avenue (later Maplewood Avenue and now Viscount Drive) and Smith Street (now Monroe Street). The building was dedicated on Dec. 18, 1921. Myrtle Beach Church became independent of Mary Taylor Church in 1929.

In the mid 1930s, a bell tower was erected and a bell secured from donations of pennies by neighborhood children. Former Sunday School pupils, now in their 70s and 80s, fondly remember the former church sextons allowing them to help pull the rope to ring the bell — if they were well behaved — announcing the beginning of classes.

The temporary wooden church deteriorated badly over the years and was razed in 1955. A new brick church was built to replace it. The bell was not used in the new structure, but was stored in its basement.

When the Myrtle Beach area was redeveloped in the 1960s, the new church was taken in the process. Joseph Latham was the lay leader of the church when it voted to merge with Mary Taylor Church in the fall of 1969. The question of what to do with the bell was raised, and he offered to purchase it.

He moved the bell to his property in Sandy Hook, and subsequently took it with him when he and his family moved to two different locations in Florida. When he died in December 2005, the bell was in his garden in Fort Pierce, Fla. His widow, Phyllis Latham, has since moved to Tampa and the Fort Pierce property is for sale.

It was the family’s wish that the bell be returned to the church.

This was accomplished on July 8 with the help of Bruce Rumford, the church sexton; Ken Greenhill of Milford; and Bill Latham, Joseph Latham’s son.

The bell is stored temporarily at Mary Taylor Church until it can be refurbished, mounted and displayed in a suitable place, yet to be determined, on the church grounds.

“It will be a symbol of how deeply the histories of the two churches have been intertwined and are truly one history,” reads a church bulletin entry.

Parts of this narrative were taken from A History of Myrtle Beach Community Church by the Rev. Ralph Lord Roy, a former pastor of Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church.