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Mystery of what happened to the old courthouse bell is solved

The old courthouse constructed in 1856. There have been a total of three courthouses prior to the present-day courthouse, celebrating its 100th this year.

The old courthouse constructed in 1856. There have been a total of three courthouses prior to the present-day courthouse, celebrating its 100th this year.

By Linda Emley

Sometimes I’m working on a story and have exhausted all of the normal resources and the missing piece for my story just falls out of the air and lands on my desk.

This story began several months ago when we were working on the details about the 100th anniversary of our current courthouse. We are going to have a rededication party Nov. 20, 2015, which is 100 years after the courthouse opened. Eastern County Commissioner Allen Dale asked me if I knew what happened to the bell on the old courthouse that was moved in 1914 to make way for the current courthouse. I figured it might be hard to find but I like a good challenge.

My journey started by looking at the old pictures of the courthouse. This courthouse had a cupola on the roof, that would have housed the bell. Construction of the courthouse was completed in 1856. When it was moved in 1914, the cupola was no longer on top of the building so somewhere along the way the copula “bell tower” was removed. The story has always been that it was removed when the cyclone damaged the courthouse in 1878. I searched all the courthouse records and the newspapers from 1878 and there was no mention of the bell. I later found where the bell tower was not removed until 1909 when the roof was repaired.

So where did the bell go? We chased a few rumors about the bell being the same one that a local church was using, but after examining that bell we found that it was forged in the 1870s and could not have been the bell we were looking for.

As usual, the answer to this question was found while we were looking for something else at the Ray County Museum. On Saturday, July 25, Carol Proffit and I were working at the museum and she asked me if I had looked up a story that a lady requested a few weeks ago. I hadn’t had time, so Carol offered to do it and I was glad to get the old Ray County Mirror that she needed. A short time later, our mystery was solved. “Courthouse Bell by Gordon Jacobs. Somewhere between 1937 and 1939 Otis Bradley and I took it down, and took it to his daddy’s salvage yard (Roy Bradley). That was among some of my earliest hoisting jobs. I hadn’t had that old white winch-line truck very long, but Otis rigged the gin pole on top of the courthouse and we hung a pulley block out on the end and with the line from the winch through the block hitched to the bell, we lowered it to the truck bed. I never knew what disposition was ever made of it, but bell metal being quite a bit more valuable than just cast iron, I feel certain that it eventually found another home. I kinda wish we hadn’t done it. I’d like to hear it again.”

It took me several days to accept this story because I had hoped we would find our bell. We think the bell was housed inside the courthouse roof since the cupola was no longer attached. Once again, we have learned that everything happens for a reason. Carol and I know that our old friend Virginia McBee got tired of watching us worry about the bell and showed us where to find the answer. It had only been waiting for us since March 30,1979, in the Ray County Mirror. “Thanks Virginia!”

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