Focus on Fostoria - Aug_17_03

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Fostoria Focus, 8/17/03

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Historic Preservation Rings a Bell
By Leonard Skonecki

Why get worked up over a bell that hasn't rung in 88 years?

Because it's the bell that has been located at the old Fostoria High School and Emerson Junior High School since 1878.

But the old high school property is perched on the verge of big changes because of the Kroger expansion so the bell needs a new home.

When the high school was built in 1877, it had a belfry. The east and west wings were added in 1909. In 1915, the 1877 section was torn down and rebuilt, this time without a belfry.

Enter Bradfield Hamilton (1856-1934), a local mason. Hamilton's work is familiar to Fostorians.

He built the stone archway at Fountain Cemetery's entrance, the stone fence around his home at Union and Ash Streets and the stone boat at Fountain Cemetery.

Hamilton built the bell's foundation in May 1915. The bell was mounted on it and there it sat until August 5, 2003.

At 7 a.m. that day, the Roppe maintenance crew of Bill Moyer, Jim Ponn, Don Brenamen, Gary Brady, Steve Roberts, and Gregg Beach, along with Joe Droll of the Fostoria Community Schools maintenance department and myself, representing the Historical Society, decided, just for the heck of it, to demolish the thing.

Just kidding.

Ever since a developer purchased an option on the property a few years ago there has been discussion about the bell's fate. Recently, there was a lot more conversation as Kroger's plans progressed.

Lots of folks have been involved – Don Miller of Roppe Corp., FCS Superintendent Cynthia Lemmerman, FCS Treasurer Jane Fruth, Joe Droll, the Historical Society – and everyone agreed the bell would be preserved.

Don volunteered the Roppe maintenance crew, Joe brought the schools' front loader. I contributed by my unerring ability to stand around, gawk and make pertinent comments like, "You guys do good work. Keep it up."

The first job was to remove the bell. It took a blowtorch to loosen the large nut that held the bell in place.

After that, the project was going fine until Joe tried to lift the bell off and everyone realized the front loader wasn't nearly big enough to hoist the bell.

We called Eric Keckler at the Fostoria Street Department's maintenance garage. He rolled in with the city's front loader which was plenty big enough and in less that 15 minutes the bell was resting on Roppe's flatbed truck.

Then the hammers, sledgehammer, chisels and jackhammer were applied to Mr. Hamilton's beautiful stonework. It was a shame to break it up, but there was just no way to move it whole.

We kept the exterior stone. We saved the cornerstone from the 1877 building which Hamilton incorporated into the foundation. We also removed a small plaque with Hamilton's name on it.

Everything was loaded onto trucks and placed in storage.

So what happens to the bell now? Good question.

Actually, we have something in mind. The reason for saving the exterior stone is so that the foundation can be rebuilt using some of Hamilton's original material.

We took measurements and pictures (courtesy of John Montgomery of the Focus). The foundation is 50 inches tall (ground to the top of the stone).

Its circumference is 188 inches at the base and 115 at the top. Bill Moyer noticed that the white cement ring that formed the top of the foundation was made using a large tire rim as a mold.

The base of the foundation was also a white cement ring. Hamilton also added cinders to the foundation, possibly for color.

The next step will be to find someone who can do this type of work.

Another question is where will the bell's new home be? There's been some discussion about this, too.

Nothing's written in stone, so to speak, but one idea is to put it at Fostoria High near the intersection of Park Avenue and H.L. Ford Drive; something from Fostoria's first high school to grace the approach to the current one.

This is just an idea. Nothing's been decided yet.

Did I mention the time capsule? No? I guess I should.

There was a time capsule embedded in the top of the foundation. It was an infant's burial vault made of steel.

A 1915 Fosstoria Review article said it was "air tight and water-proof." Wish that was true.

The bottom was rusted away and I'm afraid most of the contents have long since been destroyed. Those that remain were actually damp to the touch.

There's still some hope, though. We opened one side and there was part of a newspaper that was still legible.

So rather than handle the contents any more, I asked Darren McDonough, director of the Kaubisch Library if I could place the capsule in the library where the contents can dry in the excellent climate control. Then I'll see what's still there.

An old news clipping said the capsule contained an American flag, coins, newspapers, a history of the school, and a list of alumni association members and a list of the teachers.

I'll let everyone know what, if anything, I find.

Someone asked me a few months back if the Historical Society was going to save the old bell. The Historical Society helped, but all the other folks, especially Joe and the Roppe crew, are the ones who have preserved a piece of local history.

A big thank you to all of them.