Church bells have been ringing in Winston-Salem since at least the early 19th century, when Home Moravian Church first installed its bell. But listener Phil Archer told Carolina Curious he hasn’t been hearing the usual chimes much lately.

“It seems like something that brings pleasure and unites us all for a moment hearing the same thing," he said. "A lot of work went into designing those things. Are they used more seldom now?”

We made some calls to track down the answer.

Of the seven churches in Winston-Salem’s downtown district, six picked up the phone. Two said they've never had bells. The rest said they haven't changed anything about how frequently they’re rung. So why might Archer be missing them?

Minor Barnette, with the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection, says noise pollution could be getting in the way.

“The soundscape is complex and variable. It tends to be more noisy in an urban environment than in the non-urban environment," he said. "As our population density increases, more people are closer to other people and the activities that other people are engaged in.”

Winston-Salem’s population has increased by nearly 10% since 2010, according to the latest census estimates. Barnette also says increased post-pandemic activity could be a factor too.

“As our economy rebounds from the conditions of the last few years, with increased construction, you could have increased noise associated with the construction activities," he says. "It tends to be louder during the day than it is at night.”

He says it’s possible that lower daytime activity during the pandemic may have made it easier to hear the bells — for a while at least, the chimes had less to compete with.

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