There is a 151-year-old bell in the tower of the Cambridge Town Hall that few knew about until this year. It had been hidden and silent for decades. This is the story of bringing that bell back to life and ringing it on Veterans Day.
This story begins with the 3rd grade at Cambridge Elementary School:
Each year, CES 3rd graders spend several months learning about the history of our town. … This year [spring 2022], students studied the history of the village of Jeffersonville.
Retired schoolteacher Audrey Cota helps with the 3rd grade local history unit each year. One of the things the students learned from Ms. Cota this year was about the bell hidden in the tower of the Cambridge Town Hall. (The Cambridge Town Hall is in Jeffersonville, a village in the town of Cambridge.)
The 3rd graders wrote a letter to the Cambridge Selectboard asking that the bell be brought back to life!
Dear Selectboard Members,
Imagine seeing a bell that hasn’t been seen in over 40 years! Picture how it would bring a smile to everyone’s face to see and hear such an important part of our town’s history. … We were so amazed to learn that a 900 pound bell was hidden in the top of the building! Most people don’t know that the bell even exists. … Please help us bring the bell back, you are the only people who can help our community do this!
Read the complete letter by the students. The Selectboard discussed this letter in our meeting on June 21, 2022 (minutes).
Indeed, the bell had been largely forgotten. No one currently serving on the Cambridge Selectboard, including me, knew that the bell existed. Coincidentally, we were already talking about engaging an architect to look at various aspects of the town hall including structural integrity, internal layout, HVAC systems, and the elevator. We agreed to make the bell part of that review, too.
Brief history: The Cambridge Town Hall, originally a church and later a theater, became unused in the 1970s and fell into disrepair. A group of concerned citizens, the Town Hall Committee, rescued the building through volunteer efforts, donations and grants. The building and the bell were both restored in the early 1980s. Only $1 of taxpayer money was involved in the initial restoration, when the town acquired the building in 1980. The bell was featured in the Fourth of July parade in 1982 before being put back into the tower, out of sight and eventually out of mind. The last time anyone remembers ringing the bell was in 1996 when the U.S. Post Office signed a lease for the first floor.
On September 29, 2022, Architect Keith Gross and Town Administrator Jonathan DeLaBruere rang the bell to show that it could be done. Watch the video and listen to the bell:
It makes a lovely sound!
There was no plan to ring the bell further until the Selectboard received a request sent to many local towns, churches, and synagogues to ring their bells (if they have one) at 11:00 AM on Veterans Day for world peace. We agreed to that request in our Selectboard meeting on November 1 (minutes).
Selectboard Member Courtney Leitz (a 6th grade teacher at CES) coordinated with the now 4th grade students. The students and their teacher from last year, Molly Spillane, came to the town office on the morning of Veterans Day. The students read a statement about the meaning of Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day, and the significance of ringing the bell:
On this Veterans Day, we come to ring the bell in honor of our service men and women and our veterans and to promote peace. We understand that they have made great sacrifices for the common good. We honor their patriotism and are grateful for all they have done. We ring this bell today with the hopes that there may be peace throughout the world, ensuring the safety of our service members, our people, and our world.
Read the complete statement by the students.
The photo below shows the students lining up in the hallway to pull the rope to ring the bell. The rope is hanging down through the ceiling where the ladder is positioned:
Each student and Ms. Spillane rang the bell beginning at 11:00 AM. The students were excited when they pulled the rope and heard the bell ring!
Many people gathered outside in the parking lot to hear the town bell. At the same time, the Second Congregational Church across the street also rang its bell. Watch the video and listen to the bells:
It was a magical moment!
Thanks to Architect Keith Gross for both videos in this post.
The bell itself remains hidden from public view. Jeremy LaClair, the CES Technology Coordinator, climbed the several ladders to reach the bell in the tower of the town hall and took the following photo just prior to it being rung by the students:
The inscription on the bell reads:
Troy Bell Foundry
Jones & Company
The CES 3rd grade learned about more local history than just the bell in the town hall.
They showcased their knowledge through a musical performance, by creating a TV newscast, and by virtually recreating Jeffersonville in Minecraft (the popular computer game).
That quote, and their work, is here:
Among other things, they learned how the village changed its name from Cambridge Center to Jeffersonville after Thomas Jefferson died. That story, as well as the story of the bell in the town hall, is in the 3rd of three newscasts at the link above.
Audrey Cota wrote the lyrics for the song “This Town Is Your Town,” the musical performance at the link above.