Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 28, 2013

GT County considers bringing back the bell

BY MICHAEL WALTONStrokeStyle/$ID/Japanese Dots mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Grand Traverse County courthouse's historic bell could soon ring again.

Several community members expressed interest in raising funds to restore the 112-year-old bell that sits high atop the county's circuit courthouse, said Danny Brown, county Facilities Management Department director.

The bell used to ring every hour and half-hour, but fell silent in 2008 because of budget and safety concerns. Four years earlier an accident at the century-old Antrim County Courthouse sent a set of massive bell counterweights crashing to the ground. No one was hurt, but Brown decided to perform a check-up on Grand Traverse County's courthouse bell.

Brown replaced the bell's cables and reinforced the tower's wooden structure with steel, but the old weight and cable system needed to be fully replaced.

"I laid awake thinking about the darn thing swinging in the air," Brown said.

Estimates indicated it might cost $12,000 to install an electronic striker for the bell. County officials denied Brown's multiple requests for money, and in 2008 he decided to cut the cables and lower the bell's two-600 pound counterweights to the ground.

Now the price tag for an electronic striker has fallen to $8,000, and Brown thinks the county can raise that money through community donations.

County officials said Brown's plans leave some questions unanswered, including how the city's Boardman neighborhood might take to a new toll on their area.

"If a person goes around the neighborhood, he's going to find people who want the chime again, but there's going to be just as many who want it to stay quiet," county Commissioner Sonny Wheellock said.

Two women who can see the courthouse tower from their respective front porches disagree about the chime's return.

Ruth Stow, a 26-year resident of the Boardman neighborhood, said she would donate money to restore the bell to its ringing glory.

Stow remembers the first time she heard the bell toll. She was making a bed in her then-new Washington Street home after spending the day unpacking boxes when she heard the 2 a.m. chime

"I thought, 'That's so cool'," Stow said.

Sharon Neumann has lived across the street from Stow for almost 13 years. Guests have asked Neumann about the bell's absence in recent years, but she likes the peace and quiet, and thinks the $8,000 restoration tab is too high.

"If it's that much I think there are better things we can spend our money on," Neumann said.

Electronic strikers can be programmed to stop ringing at night and can play special chimes for ceremonies and events.