the Columbia School Bell in the Library Tower 

The bell that was in the Columbia School, which was located between the current elementary school and the Catholic Church, was carefully saved when the school was demolished. It had been installed in 1893 when the first wing of the school was built.

The bell was reinstalled in the cupola of the Gazebo in the town park on Mill and Main and carefully attended to by Bev Thiverge who insisted on climbing up to it on an annual basis to paint and/or ring it during Blueberry Fest. Such devotion was nothing short of risking life and limb on that steep gazebo roof and it can’t go unheralded.

The Evelyn Goldberg Briggs Memorial Library was placed on this park area in 2000 and became the caretaker of the bell. This year, 2017, the old gazebo was on its last legs and the Library needed expanding. The gazebo is now gone but the bell has been saved and has been reinstalled in a new tower on the east side of the new Library addition.

As the bell was removed this June, thanks to the help of the Bayfield Electric Cooperative, and refurbished, thanks to the help of the Washburn Iron Works, we were able to read its foundry markings and to research the origins and manufacture of the Columbia Bell. It has a great history and also mystery. We found out this:

It was manufactured by the Blymyer Norton & Co. of Cincinnati, OH. It was initially assumed that the bell would have been cast in the 1892/3 timeframe that coincides with the initial construction of the Columbia School. This is not the case. It turns out to be older—in fact it is quite a bit older. The Blymyer Norton & Co. name existed for only a short time—that was 1866 to 1872. The foundry’s name changed to the Blymyer Mfg Co. in 1872 and in 1889 it changed again to the Cincinnati Bell Foundry. During these years, while the shape of the bells stayed much the same, the name on them changed.

So our Iron River Columbia bell is one of the first that this foundry produced and it was made shortly after the Civil War. In fact the Cincinnati area had access to surplus Confederate and Union munitions—which they reused as scrap for manufacturing. It is entirely possible that this beautifully cast bell is made from reclaimed civil war armaments.

It is a most graceful and stylish bell and it is truly a “school” bell. It is cast thinner so its pitch is higher and the residents can tell its toll from that of a church or fire bell.

This leaves us with a couple of great historical mysteries. The first: Where did the metal content of the bell really come from? And the second: Where was this bell before it was hung in Iron River’s Columbia School Tower? Come join us as we continue to investigate the unknown and forgotten, as well as document and celebrate the rich Iron River history