Cassville schools aim to restore historic bell

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Pictured is the historical school bell referenced in Emory Melton's book. The bell has been sitting near the entrance on of Cassville's Eunice Thomas Elementary School since the 1970s. The bell has been an enduring physical and historical artifact in the history of Cassville since 1868, and was moved to the original school grounds in what is believed to be the 1930s. Previous to that, it was used at the courthouse and for church gatherings. In December 1869, an illegal hanging took place on the bell's post. Julia Kilmer reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Bell has rich history in Cassville, at courthouse, school

Since it was moved there in approximately the 1970s, many parents, teachers and children have walked by a familiar old bell on their way to school at Eunice Thomas Elementary in Cassville.

"It's probably been there since sometime in the 1970s," said John Sullivan, Cassville School Board president. "That's about when the building and circle drive was put in. There is a lot of significant history to the bell. It was originally on the courthouse lawn in the 1860s."

Pictured is the historical school bell referenced in Emory Melton's book which has been sitting near the entrance of Cassville's Eunice Thomas Elementary School since the 1970s. The bell has been an enduring physical and historical artifact in the history of Cassville since 1868, and has been resting on school grounds since what is believed to be the 1930s. Previous to that, it was used at the courthouse and for church gatherings. In December 1869, an illegal hanging took place on the bell's post. The date of photo is believed to be from the 1950s. Fields' Archives photo contributed by the Barry County Museum.

A 1967 graduate of Cassville High School, Sullivan remembers the bell as a student.

"It was outside when I was in school," he said. "There was a building that was the old high school building, and when we were in school, that's where the bell was."

Sullivan believes the bell was moved to the original school in the early 1930s, and that Eunice Thomas Elementary was built sometime in the late 1960s.

"The original use tells in Emory Melton's book that it was used for kids at school I think, and for church gatherings," he said. "But, it was used for various things when it was at the courthouse."

Long-time resident and local historian Emory Melton wrote a book about the city of Cassville's history entitled, "The First 150 Years," which is available at the Barry County Museum. In the book, Melton references the bell and the school, as follows:

"Prior to and during the Civil War (1861-1865), public schools in Cassville consisted mostly of meetings in homes and were called subscription schools, because parents paid a sum of money to the teacher for their children to attend. Official school records date back to April 1869. In 1886, a large school building was constructed. It was a two-story building and had a bell tower.

"The school bell was purchased by public citizens of the city in 1868 and mounted it on a bell post at the southeast corner of the public square. Used mainly for the purpose of calling students to school and worshippers to church, Melton notes it was ironic that on December 4, 1869, the bell was used for an entirely different purpose."

Sullivan said there was actually a hanging on the post of that bell right after the Civil War.

"It was definitely not a legal hanging," he said. "There was a group of 200 who got together. They gathered boxes, strung him up on the bell post, kicked the boxes off the bell post, and hung him."

According to the story, as described in Melton's book, a young couple who operated a store in Shell Knob were slain during a robbery. Jack and Cordelia Carney, ages 20 and 21, had established the store with stock from the store at Flat Creek, which was operated by Carney's father. George Moore, a young man who had been raised as an orphan by members of the Carney family, entered thestore and shot Jack Carney during the robbery. When his wife came into the store, she was also shot and killed by Moore.

Moore escaped, but was later apprehended by the Barry County sheriff and put in the county jail, which at that time was a wooden structure located on the square. Irate citizens, led by some of Carney's relatives, converged on the jail, took Moore and lynched him from the bell post.

"Shortly after that, the county gave the bell to the school and from there it went up on water tower hill, where the old school was," Sullivan said. "And, it has been on the school property somewhere ever since."

At one point, the bell was lost.

"When it was moved from the old to the new school, it came up missing for several years," said said Richard Asbill, superintendent. "The old school used to have a furnace where they shoveled coal into a burner. It got buried under a coal pile."

Due to the bell's significance in the history of the school, discussions are underway to repair and preserve it for future generations.

"We will talk about in our August meeting," Asbill said. "We've not made any decisions other than talking about creating a more secure base for it. The base was done by the class of 1964 I believe, so there's some natural weathering that's occurred.

"The importance piece is it's one of those things you see but you don't see. It's been there for many years. It has been moved a couple times as the campus has grown, and there's some history with the bell. Emory Melton has done a very good job with the history and we'd like to bring that to peoples' attention."

Corles "Corky"Stehlik, owner of Barry County Ready Mix, also praised Melton. Stehlik said that anything he knows about the bell is just repeating the story that Melton wrote.

"We moved here in 1958," Stehlik said. "My parents had a lumber yard here for 38 years, called Barry County Lumber Company. There were two hangings, one story talks about a lynching that took place and it happened on the bell post that the bell was on. It has a date of 1868. It is the bell where the lynching took place and it stayed up at school for 39 years. Then, they moved it to its present site."

Stehlik, who went to school with Sullivan, also remembers the bell as a student.

"As a teenager, I can remember it being in a different location than it is now," he said. "I personally think we should thank Emory Melton for telling us the story about it so that it doesn't get lost [in history]. It's him and his book that brought it to my attention. It's a beautiful old bell and just sitting out there and almost forgotten about. It's got a tremendous history to it, and it's the only bell that the Cassville school system has ever had.

"In the 150-year history of a town, not many physical remnants or artifacts remain. So now, in the year 2015, when parents, students and teachers walk by an old school bell of a morning, they should take time to stop, ponder and appreciate its existence, and rich, 147-year history, including the many thousands of parents, students and teachers from generations past who also walked by it of a morning. And, they should take time to thank Mr. Melton.

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