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.