The Yukon Harbor Historical Society made headlines when we came up with the storied and historical signal bell that hung over the Grant and Sons Mercantile a few years back, and believe it or not we just unveiled another one.
This one caught us by surprise. When the first bell turned up after residing in a Kansas garage after 40-plus years [see the original article, Grant & Sons Bell Returns to Yukon Harbor] we were pleased to have the artifact and made plans to build a monument around it as a tribute to the town of Colby. The newspapers came and interviewed us, publishing a front page photograph of it in the local edition. Days later, however, we were contacted by a local homeowner, Sandy O’Donnell, who said she had what she believed to be the original school bell. She explained that the bell was found at a home she purchased years ago on Cherry Avenue in the Southworth area, and the prior owners said it was from the old Colby School. We were slightly skeptical. How could a relic like that last? We were extremely lucky to find the first bell; could we also have found a second one? Was that possible?!! Was it from the short-lived Harper School? Or, simply, a farmyard bell from the area?
Sandy and her husband, John, turned it over to us, and we set out to determine its age and origin. It was painted an institutional green — certainly what you’d expect of a school — and had been repaired a couple of times. It was rusty and crusty, but doggone it, it looked very old.
The cast-on nameplates identified it as an “C.S. Bell & Co No. 3” farm and school bell manufactured in “Hillsboro, Ohio.” It was slightly more ornate than the Grant & Sons bell, and had a different clapper. The company has undergone several reincarnations through the ages and is still in business, and it was our good luck that the current company offers precise ways to date every casting they made since the mid 1800’s.
Sure enough, this particular bell is dated between 1882 and 1894, which is quite consistent with an installation at the original 1885 Colby school. The Harper school was not built until much later, so that is an unlikely origin. We are convinced that it once hung over the eighth school built in Kitsap County, right here at the corner of Cole Street and Yukon Harbor Road.
The O’Donnells say they found it on the aforementioned property, hanging in a wisteria-covered arbor in the yard. “The bell had already been a part of that home for years and we were told that the mother of who we bought the home from had attended the school in her youth and had gotten the bell when they took it down at the school.”
They used it to call their children home for dinner and to ring in New Years and other special occasions. “The arbor was getting pretty rickety,” Sandy explains, “and for a time we were afraid it would fall on top of someone, so we took it down. We enjoyed it for so long.”
When they sold that house, they took it with them to their new place on Miracle Mile in Manchester, leaving it in a corner of the garage and not knowing what to do with it. Finally, when she read the news that the Grant bell had surfaced, Sandy decided to contact YHHS. Having been left all those years outside and then bouncing from one property to another, it’s a wonder it wasn’t stolen or lost or vandalized.
OK, so what were we going to do with it? We discussed the possibility of placing it in front of the house that occupies the original school site, but that house is rental property now and we thought that might lead to its disappearance. We also considered placing it in front of the second school — a building which still stands on Garfield Avenue and is also a private residence today — but that also seemed like letting it fall into private hands.
No, we wanted it to be placed in a public place and, if possible, have a practical use. It is, after all, a bell.
A few weeks ago we were contacted by the principal of South Colby Elementary School, Brian Pickard, and the concept of placing it on the school grounds seemed to be a natural fit. We agreed to place it on permanent display on his campus, and he set out to organize a committee of volunteers to create an appropriate method of displaying it. One of our historians, JB Hall, set out to restore the bell and its cradle, carefully removing the rust and lead paint, and re-hanging the clapper so that the bell sounded correctly.
Pickard put together a small committee of volunteers to adapt the bell to the school’s needs. He enlisted the help of an architect, David Fall, to design a sturdy base that would make the bell portable, and also got help from South Kitsap High School’s wood shop teacher, Tim Shaffer, to build it. We have to chuckle at the ornate and complex design, because these bells were designed to be bolted to a simple post or fence and nothing more.
The bell was formally turned over to the school at a ceremony held on April 30th, 2012. Teacher Bonnie Kimball, who is retiring this year, gave the relic its ceremonial “first ring” with hundreds of young students cheering her on. It is our hope that this very old bell — already 128 years old after several lifetimes of use — will lead to a whole new series of memories and traditions for the local schoolchildren and educators.
The Schools of Colby.
The current South Colby School is actually the third one to bear the name of Colby.
School District No. 8 consisted of a one-room school house constructed by the townspeople in 1885 near the north line of the Colby District, on a lot donated by the local citizenry. Initial enrollment was 45 students but the fast-growing community quickly outgrew it. Conditions became so cramped that for a time classes overflowed into the nearby lumber mill. After the school was relocated, the original building was removed and a private residence occupies the site today.
The new, larger four-room school was built on Garfield Avenue on the hill above the town about 1908. The Colby School continued to operate as a separate district until 1941, when it joined the High School district that had been created two decades earlier and is now the South Kitsap School District. The Garfield Avenue school closed in 1948 and that building is currently in use as a private residence.
The South Colby Elementary School was opened in 1957 on Banner Road by the South Kitsap School District and encompasses the area served by the original Colby School District No. 8 and the adjacent Harper School District No. 55.
The C.S. Bell Company.
Specifically, this Number 3 Farm Bell was manufactured by C. S. Bell & Co in their Hillsboro foundry between 1882 and 1894 and is believed to have been installed at the original Colby School around 1885. It was almost certainly relocated to the second Colby School when it was constructed in 1908 on Garfield Avenue. Careful examination of the photo above reveals pitting and denting due to exposure to the harsh elements and daily use. The ringer arm was broken and a replacement riveted into place, very likely by one of the two blacksmith shops located in Colby Village.
Typically, bells of this type were placed atop a single post or mounted at the peak of the school building. Thanks to a local architect, David Fall, and other volunteers an ornate new stand is being developed that will make it portable for various school activities, both inside and outside the school.
The bell was donated to the Yukon Harbor Historical Society by John and Sandy O’Donnell of Manchester in 2009. It will be placed on permanent display at South Colby Elementary, and will be returned to YHHS should the school ever be torn down or vacated.
Editor’s Note: We are researching and developing a more detailed history of the Colby Schools, and are actively seeking photographs of the original Yukon Harbor Road, Garfield Avenue, and Harper Schools. That article, which will include a slice-of-life look at what it was like to be a schoolteacher at the end of the Victorian Era, will be published soon. RN.