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Church bell marks a sad centennial


IT SITS QUIETLY in a bell tower in the parking lot of Copake Falls’ Church of Our Lady of Hope on Route 22. And it has a story. One hundred years ago the bell was the property of famed restaurateur Louis Moquin’s elegant Bash Bish Inn. The inn, in its third incarnation, attracted people from a wide area, including especially Boston and New York City. Famed novelist Herman Melville was known to have stayed at one of the inn’s earlier versions.

Moquin’s inn was located across the stream from the parking lot that leads up to Bash Bish Falls. It’s in one of the state’s most scenic areas, next to the Bash Bish Brook along an old Indian Pass of the Taconic Range. The falls were the subject of paintings by Hudson River School painter John Frederick Kensett and many other artists. Of the inn itself, little is recorded, but a document from the Smithsonian Institution noted of one of its nearby bungalows, “These structures were well suited to country living, for they could be placed on slopes and rugged terrains.”

Perhaps the bell was rung daily to announce that dinner was being served in the inn’s dining room. Or it might have been used occasionally for various purposes. In any case, at 11 a.m. September 18, 1918, a maid whose name has gone unrecorded inn stopped into her room at the inn for some reason. There she accidently knocked over an alcohol lantern initiating a fire.

The maid initially tried to beat out the fire by herself. Only after becoming severely burned did she finally call out for help, by which time it was too late. As far as is known today the maid, who survived, was the only person to suffer harm. But the inn was a total loss. Only three things associated with it survived the fire: a flag which at the last minute a waiter removed from the inn’s roof, a chimney from one of the inn’s fireplaces, and the bell.

The flag now resides in a town in North Carolina to which the waiter relocated and the chimney eventually disappeared. But the bell survives. Initially it was given to nearby St. Brigid’s church. Then, when that church was succeeded by our Lady of Good Hope, it was moved there. However, most parishioners and other townspeople and the priest to whom this reporter spoke were unaware of the bell’s origins. Also, because it was so loud, a decision was made not to ring it.

The Bash Bish bell in Our Lady of Hope’s bell tower will be rung at 11 a.m. Tuesday September 18 to mark the centennial of the fire that destroyed the popular Bash Bish Inn in Copake Falls. Photo contributed.

The exception will be this coming Tuesday. At the instigation of members of the Copake Grange, and with the cooperation of our Lady of Hope, in commemoration of the Bash Bish Inn’s sad demise, the bell will be roused out of its torpor and rung at 11 a.m. to mark the very hour of the fire’s centennial.

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