City bell to return to town square after more than a century

James Lee of FX industries puts the Hurricane bell back together after restoration, Aug. 21, 2021 | Photo courtesy of David Isom, St. George News

HURRICANE — The Sons of Utah Pioneers and the Hurricane Historical Preservation Commission are partnering to return a 115-year-old bell to its original home in the city’s town square. They hope to have the bell installed in time to ring in the next Peach Days. 

David Isom (left) and Larry LeBaron (right), members of the Hurricane Valley Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, pose next to the old Hurricane bell the day it was removed from the steeple of the Old Red Brick Church, Hurricane, Utah, May 21, 2021 | Photo courtesy of David Isom, St. George News

The bell tower project has a budget of $30,000, much of which comes from RAP tax money allocated toward the effort by the city. A RAP tax allows a city to charge a small levy – generally a tenth of 1 percent – on certain sales, then use the money toward public-use projects encouraging recreation, arts and parks. The rest of the money for the bell project has come from fundraising by the Sons of Utah Pioneers. 

At the October 22 Hurricane City Council meeting, Mayor Nanette Billings, then a council member, provided an update on the status of the bell, which was bought by the city in 1906 and installed in the heart of Hurricane on State and Main streets.

On May 21, the venerable bell was removed at a cost of $6,000 from its latest resting place, the Red Brick Church. 

After 115 years, the bell was understandably weathered. After sandblasting it clean, FX Industries of Hurricane donated their time to powder-coat the bell a gleaming gold and the yoke, crank and wheel a shining black. The next step is to hang the bell in the city center in a bell tower or other monument, still to be constructed, where it can be rung during special occasions. 

The bell was on display during the 2021 Peach Days, with members of the Sons of Utah Pioneers giving it a good clanging to publicize the bell tower project.

At the October city council meeting, council and staff discussed what kind of bell tower might be built given the modest budget. City Engineer Arthur LeBaron noted he’d seen many cities take a scaled-back approach to showing off their historic bells. He described communities that displayed them on a sturdy stone edifice, perhaps 7 or 8 feet tall, as opposed to hanging them in an actual tower. 

Billings said his suggestion of using a pedestal-type display has been taken into consideration by council. 

In a later interview, Billings said the Sons of the Utah Pioneers and the members of the Hurricane Historical Preservation Commission have shared goals when it comes to displaying the old bell – impact and durability. 

“They would like to have something that represents the heritage of our community, that will be monumental and not taken down because it wasn’t built with quality materials,” she said. 

Chiming in with some history

Hurricane was founded in 1896, when enough water was diverted to keep the land and its residents irrigated. According to an account of the time, the gathered crowd was “solemn but happy.” 

The FX Industries team who restored the bell poses next to it: James Lee (left), Beth Lock (middle, and Wil DuCrest (right), Aug. 21, 2021 | Photo courtesy of David Isom, St. George News

The 30-inch cast iron bell was made by the Bell and Foundry Company in Michigan. It was purchased by some of the earliest settlers of Hurricane in 1906. 

Hurricane got a bit less solemn that year when the bell was rung for the first time. It was a heady time for the town. That same year, Hurricane hired two new teachers and created its first post office.

It was originally hung from a derrick in a tree-lined area of the town square, according to Lee Beatty, past president of the Hurricane Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers. Beatty wrote an article on the history of the bell, which was published in the 2021 Peach Days program. 

Far from being merely symbolic, the bell served a practical use. 

“As most people had no watch or clock, the bell rang about 30 minutes before church or the start of school, or when a fire or some other disaster needed assistance,” Beatty wrote. 

The clanging continued to serve the same purpose for decades. During this time, the bell didn’t travel far, but it traveled a lot.. 

When the Hurricane Social Hall was built in 1907, the bell was hung over its front door. In 1918, the bell was hung on top of the town’s first school. When the Red Brick Church was built in the early 50s, the bell was installed in its steeple. 

The bell was retired in 1970 and has only since been rung on a few occasions. According to an August article in St. George News, the local chapter of Sons of Utah Pioneers, the city of Hurricane and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have campaigned to return the bell to the town square. 

Preservation advocates are looking forward to a project that will resonate with residents. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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