The much-traveled iron bell that hung over the Grant & Sons Mercantile in the 1880’s has come home again. A trio of distant cousins — all great-grandchildren of Joseph Squire Grant, Sr, who originally rang it from his store in Colby — joined forces to ship the school house-type apparatus to the Yukon Harbor Historical Society.
Doug Grant, Jo Ann Grant Lorden, and Shirlee Toman pooled their resources to make this happen. The bell was owned by Doug Grant but, with encouragement and support from his two cousins, he placed it in the custody of Russell Neyman, a local historian. The bell arrived the first week of May.
The weathered device, which is a “Number 3 Farm Bell,” is at least 125 years old. It is 18 inches in diameter and about 12 inches tall, weighing about 75 pounds, including the metal mount and heavy iron clapper. Undoubtedly manufactured in an Eastern foundry, it has traveled to the West Coast, back to Kansas, and back again to Washington again. It is doubtful that many bells of its type have journeyed so far.
“It’s really a beautiful artifact in so many ways,” said Neyman, who received the yoke-mounted bell this Friday. “Sure, it’s rusty and weather beaten, but it has a wonderful sound and certainly has a mystique to it. It has character, to say the least. We’re considering several options for displaying it.” Neyman says it is likely that it will be placed on a monument commemorating the town of Colby, just north of Curley Creek on Southworth Drive in Eastern Port Orchard. The town has almost completely vanished through the passage of time and there is not even a road sign to indicate its former location. Only four of five of the original residences remain, but the commercial buildings and piers are gone.
Devices of this type were used in rural communities in an age when it was not easy to communicate across even short distances. Traveling to nearby Manchester or, even, South Colby was a half-day trip, since roads were primitive and there were no telephones. These bells were installed in churches, schoolhouses, fire stations, and farms for signaling, of course, but the Grant businesses took that a step further. There were no telephones and even the simplest trip down the shoreline or up the creek to carry a message was an ordeal, so the store’s bell proved useful as a messaging system. Besides the obvious role as a fire alarm — townspeople would come running if they heard a rapid, constant ring — it proved handy for everyday communication and could be heard for several miles and across the bay. A specified number of bell strikes might signify that the mail had arrived or that it was time to unload a steamer full of provisions. Or, as noted by a Grant Family member, it was not uncommon for the senior Grant to call his sons home from their day in the surrounding forest.
The senior Grant donated a similar bell to the Colby Methodist Church in the 1880’s. That one is currently displayed in front of the main church building in South Colby, just a mile South of the Colby town site.
“It has ample character, to say the least,” says Neyman with a chuckle.
Joseph Grant purchased the Colby Bell when he moved to Washington Territory in 1883 and placed it high above his store in Colby, Washington. There is some indication that he brought it with him when he journeyed to Puget Sound from Kansas, where he operated a store before moving West. It might have been used at the store he owned for several years in Olalla, as well. The bell is seen in photographs of Colby, the location of his Grant & Sons Mercantile, as early as 1887, and hung there through 1967, when the store was demolished. Doug Grant, feeling a bit nostalgic, climbed up to the store’s roof and removed it a few hours before the salvers arrived, taking it back to Kansas with him. He kept it in his Wichita home since rescuing it.
With the tremendous upsurge of interest in Yukon Harbor History, he was contacted by the Yukon Harbor Historical Society, who wondered what his plans for the bell were. He and his cousin, Jo Ann Grant Lorden, transferred the bell to Neyman, who is a founding member of the Society. A temporary version of the monument has been situated in Neyman’s front yard for two years, awaiting a more permanent home. Discussions are underway to place it in a public right-of-way at the original townsite.
Here’s a link to an article that appeared in the local newspaper.
“Kitsap Man Uncovers Past of Colby.”