Returning to Russell

135-year-old school bell to return to Pine Grove Township after school board gives consent

A 19th-century school bell is being returned to its rightful home.

The Warren County School District Board of Directors approved a motion for “the donation of the school bell from the former Russell Elementary School to the Pine Grove Historical Committee…” during Monday’s meeting.

In a letter from Linda Farnsworth, representing the Pine Grove Historical Committee, to Board Member Marcy Morgan, Farnsworth requested “to transfer the Russell school bell back to the Russell area.

“The bell was removed from in front of the Route 62 Elementary School building during the 2003-2004 renovation and at that time was placed on a utility cart and displayed in the RES (Russell Elementary School) vestibule,” Farnsworth wrote.

“The bell followed the Russell student

s to the new Eisenhower Elementary School and is now being warehoused in the former Sugar Grove Elementary School.”

Farnsworth wrote that the committee “has the finances available to erect a final resting place for this school bell so its place in the history of Pine Grove Township education can be preserved.

“A memorial would be erected at the former site of the brick Russell High School and Grade School on Pine Street in the village. This area has become a small park with a gazebo surrounded by shrubbery and bricks inscribed with present and former residents. Our Historical Committee would pay any expenses incurred with the transfer of the bell back to Russell.”

Farnsworth noted that the Lander bell is outside the former Lander school and that the Sugar Grove bell is “in front of the now WCSD Sugar Grove Operations Center. Please consider returning the Russell School bell where it will have a special place in local history.”

The bell was crafted by Meneely and Company of West Troy, N.Y.

According to the New York State Library, “Meneely and Company was founded in 1826 by Andrew Meneely in what was formerly known as West Troy and is now Watervliet, New York.

“In addition to bells, Meneely produced town clocks, chimes, and civil engineering instruments.”

An article in the Albany Times Union refers to Meneely as “one of the greatest bell makers in American history.

“More than 65,000 bells under the Meneely brand were cast between 1826 and 1952 when the business closed… The Meneely sound, revered for its rich tone and exceptional quality, can be heard in the carillons at Cornell University and Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., as well as at churches in locales as far-flung as Hawaii, Canada, Taiwan, and Guatemala.”

Along with the letter to the school board was a speech prepared by Ethel Young for the 2000 Russell High School reunion which tells the story of the bell.

“In 1883 a group of young ladies such as Inez Gregory and Mildred Fox formed The Young Ladies’ Sewing Circle Society,” that information states. “To be a member, one had to be unmarried, of good moral character and over age 13. Dues were 25 cents a year. They made and sold stocking bags, quilts, aprons, pillow shams, pincushions, and rugs.

“After one lengthy discussion in 1884, it was voted to take the money they had made and give it to the new school for the board to purchase a school bell. It cost nearly $50.00 and was hung in the belfry of the frame Russell Union School.”

Adjusted for inflation, the 2019 cost of that bell would be over $1,300.

“When the brick building replaced the frame building in 1918,” the speech continues, “the bell was taken to the top of old Russell High School. The rope that was pulled to toll the bell hung from the roof down into the back of the science room on the third floor. Tall students brushed the top going between the last row of seats and the back wall.

“It was a great source of temptation for some boys to pull the rope and toll the bell when no one was looking. This happened quite frequently – much to the displeasure of the principal.”

Young concluded by noting that “more than 60 years have passed since I have really heard that bell, but in my mind, I still know exactly how it sounded. Now the bell does not toll any more… On it is engraved, “Presented by Young Ladies Sewing Circle Society to Russellburg Schools in 1884.”