THE MARLIN HANDBELL RINGERS
Leavenworth, WA



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THE MARLIN HANDBELL RINGERS - 1982

The Marlin Handbell Ringers as shown on the record jacket of their first recording, produced in 1982

Early History of Leavenworth and The Marlin Handbells

The story of the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth, Washington is the story of a dream that came true. And The Marlin Handbells are part of that dream.

In 1961 this tiny town, nestled against the eastern slopes of the Northwest’s rugged Cascade Mountains, was facing financial disaster. The sawmill had shut down; the railroad was gone. many shops and businesses on the town’s two-block main street had closed their doors. Survival came down to a question of how to broaden the economic base of the area.

A committee of concerned citizens made contact with a community development team from the University of Washington. From the study that followed a dream evolved: to transform Leavenworth into a bit of Bavaria; a place where visitors could come to experience the story-book environment of a mountain village.

Many local folks risked everything to promote the dream. And when you visit Leavenworth today, you are witness to a dream come true.

Early History of The Bells

As the Bavarian Village theme expanded, ideas became projects. After the town acquired a carillon, which rings each hour and serenades the valley, a logical extension of the project was the acquisition of a set of handells.

Handbells had evolved in eighteenth century England as a means for the village carillon ringers to practice and not blast the town with the tower bells. Eventually handbell ringing became a legitimate musical form and today there are over 30,000 handbell choirs in the United States. Most sets of bells are owned by churches. The Marlin handbells belong to the group.

Beginning with four octaves, the set grew to five and one half chromatic octaves plus duplicate bells of the three middle octaves. The original total of 91 bells, cast of bronze at a foundry in Pennsylvania, represented an investment of more than $13,000. Local candy-maker Archie Marlin dipped caramel apples and sold them at Leavenworth festivals to pay off the loan that bought the bells. It is in his honor that the group is named The Marlin Handbell Ringers.

Through the years the group has acquired, through purchases and gifts, five additional base bells, the largest of which weighs 25 lbs. In 2002 the original five octave set of handbells was replaced with a brand new set. In 2006 the original duplicate middle three octaves were replaced with new bells.

The Original Ringers

When the bells arrived in October, 1978, a call went out to recruit ringers. All who were interested were invited to ring. The choir evolved into a group of fourteen enthusiasts, all local folk, all amateur musicians. It included two painters, a potter, a writer, a professional photographer, a nurse, a computer programmer, a quilter, an airline pilot and two ski instructors.

Through the years, ringers have come and gone, and the list of former ringers numbers well into the 50s. Two of the original ringers are still with the group which currently is composed of 11 ringers.