Historic peals rang out from a century-old 24-inch bell in its new home in a specially designed tower on the campus at Lone Rock School on Sept. 12.
It may have been the Lower Three Mile School’s bell, but its history is still a bit of a mystery. Lone Rock Trustee Gary Leese said he believes the bell was initially rung over a one-room schoolhouse built sometime around 1940. The little yellow schoolhouse’s bell then may have spent time in a grain shed, possibly in a potato cellar, then disappeared for decades.
Last September, the bell was discovered at CC Salvage & Re-Purpose in Victor, and the effort began to find it a new permanent home.
Lone Rock Elementary alumnae and Stevensville High School graduate Catrina Heberle designed the bell tower at the K-8 school campus as her senior project. Stevensville School Trustee Penny Bertram served as her mentor for the project that purchased the bell and built the tower.
“I feel honored to be the one to bring the Three Mile school bell back to the Lone Rock community,” Heberle said. “I’m excited and happy to see the bell tower standing where I hope it will stay for generations to come. Hearing the bell ring brings joy to me and I hope it brings joy to others as well.”
The project began a year ago, when Heberle went to see the bell in Victor, then found builder Brett Murray with Bitterroot Timber Framers. Heberle said the project was a great learning experience and the design phase was quite a process.
“We had something in mind, then changed it five or six times,” Heberle said. “We had lots of meetings with Brett about supplies and structure ideas.”
Heberle said this summer Leese poured the concrete slab. After it had time to cure, Murray’s team put the tower up.
“He moved the bell into place and put a cap with temporary tar paper on top. Eventually it will have a green metal roof to match the school,” she added.
The project took a year and cost $10,000, not including the sign listing the donors and the bell's history, which is yet to be added.
“We have some money but I don’t know how much it will be, so we may have to raise more,” Heberle said.
Fundraising included private local donations, volunteer time from Bitterroot Timber Framers, an online funding cite, and bake sales at Halloween and Christmas.
“I had a table for donations at sports games,” Heberle said. “At choir and band concerts I rang the bell.”
The bell looks unpolished because Heberle worried that cleaning fluids would take off the original varnish. She wanted that to remain, hoping the bell would last longer.
“We use a rope to ring it and have rung it twice,” Heberle said. “Once the day it was installed in the tower and once for the ‘Rocket News’ (a video blog created by middle school students).”
Superintendent Scott Stiegler said it was exciting to watch the building process.
“The tower is a beautiful timber frame structure that closely resembles a fire lookout,” he said. “After the Bitterroot Timber Framers set the bell into the tower, we had to test it. It sounded true and had a nice continuous ring. Judging by the echo, it doesn't appear to have any cracks or stress fractures in the bell itself. It really has a nice sound.”
Stiegler said the bell tower is an “eye-catching centerpiece” to the Lone Rock campus.
“I've discovered that every time I walk past it I catch myself turning around and looking back at it over my shoulder,” he said. “It's quite magnificent.”
The school is planning a dedication ceremony with a first official ringing.First, however, they have to determine bell protocol of when it will be rung and who will ring it.
“I've had inquiries about ringing the bell for various reasons and so it's evident that interest has begun to build," Stiegler said. "It would be a fitting throwback for students to ring the bell at the start and end of each school day.”
Stiegler said he plans to create reward opportunities for students to be the bell-ringer for a day.
“They'll love it,” he said.
Leese said the bell is from another era and represents a tradition.
“There are very few schools today that have a bell; they just have something in the hallway that rings between classes,” he said. “It’s nostalgic and one of those things you relate back to. It dates us, but some of us have good memories from it.”