Inn owner: Church bell hurting business
The Kismet Inn on Summer Street overlooks Library Park, and the Spirit of the Sea gazes right into the front windows. It’s a sweet location within a short walk to town and the Kennebec River.
Innkeeper Shadi Towfighi’s lodging attracts rave reviews from travel sites such as TripAdvisor:
“Our home in Maine was the Kismet Inn. Shadi, the innkeeper, welcomed us to her amazing inn upon our arrival. Nestled on a side street in historic Bath, Maine, this beautifully restored Victorian home made for a truly pleasant stay in Maine. ... In this amazingly relaxed atmosphere, we enjoyed great conversation, too. The inn was nicely decorated and very clean. We give the Kismet Inn an excellent rating. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!”
But to the glowing recommendations, a jarring note has been added in recent months:
“... I will add, however, that my mom’s sleep was disrupted by the town’s bell tower, which rang on the hour, all night long. I found it quaint, but my mom found it difficult to return to sleep after so many interruptions.”
The bell in question is the First Baptist Church bell, just up Washington Street at the corner of Elm.
The bell had always rung the hours. But after some work was done on the 160-year-old, city-owned clock mechanism in the fall of 2012, the bell tolls more loudly than it had previously.
No one knows that for sure, because no one measured the sound level before. But anecdotally, many Bath residents who couldn’t hear the bell overnight before can hear it now.
For the vast majority of city residents, the bell’s chiming isn’t a problem. But for a handful of neighbors living very close to the church, it is.
Using data from a Bath Iron Works engineer who volunteered to help, Towfighi says the bell rings at 79 decibels — similar to a freight train 15 meters away or a garbage disposal up close.
Because both the clock and the bell are historic, they’ve been grandfathered in to city codes and don’t have to meet current noise rules, which cap sustained sounds during the day at 60 decibels; 50 decibels at night. Those limits can be exceeded briefly — such as the time during which a bell might be chiming — by 10 decibels.
By that standard, the bell would be out of compliance. But because the decibel level is an average, such a bell is still permitted.
Towfighi says the bell is becoming a serious nuisance. It keeps her guests up — and that worry keeps her up, as well.
She’s got her inn on the market; but at least one potential buyer won’t buy until the bell issue has been resolved, she said.
Don’t get her wrong. Towfighi likes the bell ... during the day.
“I would just like to see it turned off overnight,” she said. “Maybe from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m.”
Towfighi said a reporter from the Boston Globe offered to come up and do a story about how the bell is affecting the Kismet Inn. She almost decided to do the story when she spoke to Jennifer Geiger at Main Street Bath.
“Jennifer asked me not to do it,” she said. “She said it would be bad for the city. I don’t want to hurt the city. I just want to get my business back.”
Geiger said her conversation with Towfighi was more about the impact such a story would have on Towfighi’s business, not the city.
“I told her she might want to think about whether a story in the Boston Globe about how people who are staying with her are unable to sleep was going to help her business,” Geiger said.
“ I don’t think it would hurt Bath,” said Geiger, who noted innkeepers at The Hampton Inn and The Inn at Bath haven’t complained, though they are not as close as The Kismet. “We’re a quaint New England town where a chime rings every hour. It’s really rather charming.”
The company that maintains the historic clock doesn’t recommend altering it. So Plan B seems to be finding a way to dampen the sound without damaging the clock, bell, bell tower — or the city’s bank account.
First Baptist Church representative Dave Pecci, city building maintenance supervisor Mike Peabody, Jim Strickland of Bath Iron Works and Towfighi sat down at a meeting Oct. 28 to see if a solution couldn’t be hammered out, said City Councilor Carolyn Lockwood, whose ward includes The Kismet.
Strickland presented information about decibel levels emitted from the bell and suggested the sound could be muffled by changing how the mechanism strikes the stationary bell, which works from the outside, not the inside.
The bell can also be struck from the inside, according to Dave Pecci, using a rope pull that is used before services in the church.
“It does make a different tone when the hammer strikes from the inside,” Pecci said.
“Then we’ll do some experiments,” Lockwood said. “It’s very low-tech, but it also won’t cost very much.”
City Planner Andrew Deci said that if the solution doesn’t require modification to the building, it should not require Historic District consideration.
Over the next couple of weeks, different materials and approaches will be tried to see if they have any effect on the bell, at least during the overnight hours.
“A lot of townspeople like the bell,” Lockwood said. “But if we can solve the problems for the immediate neighbors, everyone benefits.”