Historic Center school bell to be returned to public display

Merle Howard shares story of her research on bell, which has been removed from storage and restored

The Shelby County Historical Society had their monthly meeting on Nov. 19 featuring guest speaker Merle Howard discussing the history of Center High School’s school bell.

It all started out with - we simply wanted a bell to ring for events. It is a wonderful story about a most interesting artifact right in our midsts,” Howard said. “There’s simply today not been any true written history bringing out the wonder of this bell that I’m going to talk about.”

Howard said in July of 2018 - the 2018 Dixie World Championship Youth Baseball Tournament was happening in Center. She said had been approached and asked about her luck finding a bell, and responded that she hadn’t had any luck. 

Howard then said, “When I mention this name, I know everyone’s going to smile... Alease Copelin.” The crowd smiled. 

Howard said Copelin said to her; “You know.. I might just know where there’s a bell.” 

The Center ISD School Board awarded the bell to the William Carroll Crawford Chapter of the Daughters of the Repubic of Texas in December, 2018.

"Our member, Mrs. Alease Copelin knew the bell was in storage at the school and she approached the school administration on behalf of the chapter regarding the bell," Howard said.

Okay! We have a bell! Now what are we going to do?!” Howard said. “What about this bell? Well. We knew it had come from the Nacogdoches Street campus. So, I started to try and do some research.” 

Howard did her research until she came upon an article in an old history textbook titled, “Riverboats on the Sabine.” “Mr. Cox over in Joaquin apparently authored it and told about this riverboat,” Howard said.

“That it had sunk in the Sabine River and some men working there nearby had recovered the bell and brought it to Center High School. And it’s been in a glass case ever since.”

Howard’s research finally had a turning point when she came across the American Bell Association’s website. She said the group has all kinds of bells and large conventions focused on them. Howard then sent them an email asking if the association could possibly give her any information about her bell.

Representatives of the American Bell Association responded; asking Howard for photos of the bell. After sending the photos, pointing out that the bell was stamped with, “E. Force ‘blank blank’, New York” on it.

The association told Howard that the owner of the company was Ephraim Force and he owned a brass boundary in the lower Manhattan area of New York City. 

Howard then came across the business that brought the Center High School bell back to life. This business was called The Verdin Company, a clock business that had been in operation for more than 175 years, according to their website.

 “In February, a representative from Verdin came all the way from an office in Austin, Texas, to see our bell. He said it was a bronze bell and it was completely original,” Howard said.

“So I asked him, ‘How do we restore it?’ And so he proceeded to tell me and I started to write - I wanted to know what he suggested we do.”

The Verdin Company had arranged for Howard and her bell to arrive in Cincinnati, sending her an email; “If you can get it up here - they will put all their work aside and your bell will be done in two days, they will restore that bell for you.”

Howard and her husband soon made the drive to Cincinnati to drop the bell off at the company to be restored.

In 2009, at the closing of the Nacogdoches Street campus, the principal at the time told the students and everybody there to, ‘close your eyes and think about this campus.’ “Since the 1800’s there had been a school there,” Howard said. “Then the M.C asked the principal to ring the bell for the last time. Ring it - once for the past, once for the present and once for the future. The principal rang it once...twice...three times.”

Here we are in 2019, and this bell has fallen into Howard’s lap. Howard ended her speech with kind words about the beloved bell.

“She is far more worthy than sitting in that school storage building. I think she’s a wonderful story and artifact that we have here, and so worthy to be back out and useful again,” she said. “And so it is our hope, that in the spring of 2020, we will be able to do just that.”

Howard, who serves as treasurer of the William Carroll Crawford Chapter of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, has had the bell restored. It was donated to the chapter by the school and plans are to have it mounted next to the First Ladies Building on the Historic 1885 Courthouse Square with details to come on mounting options.