JOHN WITHAM PENNEY was born in New Gloucester in 1831, and his education was received in the common schools. He came to Mechanic Falls, Maine, in 1860 where he worked at his trade as a blacksmith. Five years later, he sold his shop and tools to the Denison Paper Company and entered the service of that corporation where he remained until 1872, when he established his own company and began manufacturing steam engines, machinery and foundry articles. In 1886, he admitted his two sons, A.R. and S.R. Penney to a partnership. His company, J.W. Penney & Sons, became one of the greatest machine shops in Maine and was a great factor in the prosperity of Mechanic Falls.
Beginning in 1769, Spain built a chain of 21 missions across Alta, California – from San Diego to Sonoma – as a way of gaining a foothold in the new frontier. California’s mission era ended in 1834, but the architectural legacy endures. The missions were built about 30 miles apart, covering 650 miles.
A website devoted to the history of the California missions and their bells includes a picture of the bell called Mata Dolorosa – Our Lady of Sorrows. According to that website, the bell weighed 1,200 pounds and was recast by the Standard Iron Works in San Diego in 1894 from bell fragments found in the vicinity of the mission. This corresponds with the information in this 2 pp, 8 x 10, letter written by A.R. Penney to his father on March 23, 1894, Riverside, CA. The letter offered here also speaks of the San Luis Rey Mission, known as the “King of the Missions” because of its expansiveness and architectural beauty.
“...I have got (9) more pieces of the old mission bell that were sent me by Express from the Foundry Foreman.
“The full inscription on the bell that the piece sent you came out of it is as follows, Santa Maryana de Jesus Ano de 1796 and it came from the San Luis Rey Mission. It was made in New Spain [Mexico] and has been at the Historical Exhibition with the 4 other bells at Sacramento, and was sent from there direct to the foundry at San Diego by Father Alback to the presiding Catholic priest in this country.
“I have every reason to believe that the alloy used in these bells was the best virgin Silver. I will get a translation of the Spanish words on inscription of the bell, if possible.
“Now the inscription on the new bell is as follows, Mata Dolorosa, which means Mother of Sorrow, originally cast in Spain in 1796.
“The inscription on the largest of the old bells is as follows, Ave Maria Pu Risimo 1802 San Jose from which I have pieces.
“We are having a terrible old weather today.”
Beautifully written on dynamically displayed stationary of the J.W. Penney & Sons Company.
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