Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, October 11, 1998, pg. 13
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." --John Donnes, 17th century.
The renovation of the Washington Gardner (High) School building is nearing its completion, and in the next few weeks here in this column we will be featuring a series of articles regarding this historic educational structure.
The bell dates back to 1875, when the local system was known as the "Albion Union Schools."This was the result of the consolidation of several small "country" school districts located in Albion Village, and Albion and Sheridan townships into one "union" district headquartered in town. This had occurred in September, 1867.
A "Central School" building was completed in November, 1872, on the site where Washington Gardner School now sits today. A bell had been installed in August of that year, but the school board thought it was too heavy upon examination of its placement in the central tower. Another was ordered at a cost of $120. That bell, however, was used for only a few more years.
A new bell was cast specifically for the Albion school in 1875 by the Troy Bell Foundry in New York. This was installed in the central tower, and remained there until a new central school was constructed on the same site in 1906. When that structure was demolished in 1927 following a fire on December 30, 1926, the bell was placed on top of the tower of the new central portion of the Washington Gardner High School which was constructed in 1927.
The bell was the object of various mischief incidents by students through the years. For example, the March 18, 1895 school board minutes reported, "Frank Haight, George Robertson and Roy Fairbanks appeared successively before the board and were questioned as to their relation to the taking of the clapper of the bell of the high school. The separately and personally denied any connection whatsoever with the matter."
The bell remained in the top of the tower of Washington Gardner High School, and was used daily until electronic bells were installed during the 1930s. The bell was still rung, however, on special occasions. One such occasion was at the end of World War II. Through the years some students would climb into the tower and ring the bell, promoting school officials to partially dismount the bell off its hanging mechanism.
There the bell sat silently and forgotten until this past August, when workers took the bell down and temporarily placed it in the new maintenance garage in the back of the school, awaiting re-installation in the atrium area. I had the opportunity to take a photograph of the bell. When turning the bell to get a better angle, I discovered that the weight of the bell is considerable, several hundred pounds, and it is made of brass. It is a wonder how a bell with this weight could be installed or taken down. It probably had to be shipped by rail from New York to Albion. The bell is now being polished and cleaned for its new exhibition. The clapper is still inside, and it would be fitting to have the bell specially rung at the school’s community "open house" for all to hear.
On one side of the bell the text reads, "THE JONES & COMPANY TROY BELL FOUNDRY, TROY N.Y. 1875." The other side reads, "UNION SCHOOL BELL ALBION, MICH 1875." This week in our Historical Notebook we present a photograph of the Albion Union School Bell, which is being placed in the main floor atrium in Washington Gardner School, just to the left of the auditorium area near the fountain.
ALBION SCHOOL BELL
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic