By Tom L. Childers, Henderson, Tennessee
There is something very magical and memorable about a school bell. Freed-Hardeman University has three of them, all manufactured by the same foundry.
Charles Singleton Bell (1829-1905) apprenticed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to learn the foundry business from his uncle. In 1858, he began his own company called The C. S. Bell Company in Hillsboro, Ohio. In 1875, he began the manufacture of bells. The first year he sold 1,000 units and by 1890 he had produced over 20,000 in fifteen sizes. His bells were made from an alloy which was cheaper to produce than brass, but more durable than iron. This alloy make for a mellow tone and it was the tone and durability that made his bells famous throughout the world.
The oldest of the bells used by FHU originally hung in the building of the Southern Tennessee Normal College started by A. G. Freed in Essary Springs, Tennessee. In 1889, Freed built the school and hung the bell. When Freed moved to Henderson in 1895 to become president of West Tennessee Christian College, he took his school equipment with him, but he left the bell behind. About ten years later, the school at Essary Springs closed, but the building was remodeled and used by the Hardeman County school system. At some point the building, along with the bell, came into the possession of the Essary Springs church of Christ. When the church disbanded in 2008, its property, including the bell, was given to FHU. The 1889 Essary Springs bell is on a portable platform and has been used since 2009 in the Tolling of the Bell ceremony to open each school year.
The second oldest bell on FHU’s campus dates back to 1897 when Freed was president of West Tennessee Christian College in Henderson, Tennessee. J. F. Robertson of Crockett Mills, Tennessee, gave $5,000 to construct a new building. Freed renamed the school Georgie Robertson Christian College, in memory of the donor’s daughter. The bell Freed selected was manufactured by The C. S. Bell Company. When E. C. McDougle closed Georgie Robertson Christian College in 1907, he took his teaching equipment but left the bell behind. The building eventually came in possession of the Chester County school system in 1909. It served as a public school building until Freed-Hardeman purchased the building in 1963. It was renamed the Milan-Sitka Building in honor of two Gibson County communities who spear-headed the raising of funds to restore the building. When the building was demolished in 2004, the bell, facade, and some brick were put in storage. The 1897 bell now hangs in the 2014 Clock Tower at the south end of Heritage Commons.
The newest of the three bells by The C. S. Bell Company was purchased in 1907, when A. G. Freed and N. B. Hardeman built the main building used by the National Teachers Business and Normal School, which became FHU. Even though it is the newest of the bells, it is unique because, unlike the two other bells, it is has never been moved. The 1889 Essay Springs bell is about 45 miles from its original location; the 1897 Georgie Robertson bell is across the street from its original home; but the 1907 Old Main bell is right where Freed and Hardeman hung it in 1907.
About C. S. Bell: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=74519661
About the C. S. Bell Company: http://www.highland-ohio.com/c_s_bell_company.htm
About the history of Freed-Hardeman University: http://www.fhu.edu/about/history
About A. G. Freed: http://www.therestorationmovement.com/_states/tennessee/freed,ag.htm
About N. B. Hardeman: http://www.therestorationmovement.com/_states/tennessee/hardeman,nb.htm