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October 26, 2020

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Forgotten Bluffton: What's the story of the bell in front of the middle school?

It called Bluffton students to school from 1884 to 1954

What’s the story of the bell located near the entrance of the middle school?

A close examination of it reveals it was made at the Buckeye Bell Foundry in 1884 by the firm of Vanduzen and Tift of Cincinnati.

It was originally housed in the belfry of an 1875-constructed three-story Victorian school building on Jackson Street. The doors to that building faced Church Street, just as the elementary building doors to today. (see photos below)

That school building was erected at a cost of $10,225. And, since the bell dates to 1884, the school belfry was “bell-less” for a decade. It is not known the purchase price of the bell, or the story of how it was installed in the belfry.

The building was added to in 1898 and it served all Bluffton students until a separate high school building was constructed in 1911.

The 1911 high school – it had no bell – was located on the corner of College and Jackson, where the new section of the high school is located today. That 1911 building was removed when the 1980s-era addition was constructed to the high school.

So, in 1911, due to the growth of students in Bluffton, the 1875 building became an elementary-only building.

The bell tower at the time rivaled the town hall as the tallest building in Bluffton. The building served as an elementary school until 1954.

With the growth of Baby Boomers the school building became very outdated and too small to serve the school district.

The building was dismantled and the bricks from the building were buried along the university side of Elm Street, just north of Riley Creek bridge.

The school bell was the last piece of the building to be removed. It was originally placed in a display in an alley between Jackson and Lawn. With the continually additions to the grade school and middle school, that alley was removed and the bell found a new home in front of the school.

The last time the bell was rung was during a rededication ceremony at its new location. 

Bluffton resident John Murray, now of Mennonite Memorial Home, paid for the construction of the brick work holding the bell. His mother, Ruby Murray was an elementary teacher in Bluffton for many years.

And now, the bell and the old Victorian school building are part of forgotten Bluffton.