Arsenal Bell will ring in new tradition at Commencement; see it first in the JSAC at 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 29
Priceless treasures are often found in the most unlikely places.
Facilities Director James Grigg was rummaging through a storage room in the Annex Building on the Health Sciences Campus when he came across an enormous bell. Though it was weathered and worn, Grigg was able to brush away enough dust to read the words “Augusta Arsenal” on its huge barrel.
The bell was part of the U.S. Arsenal property acquired by the Junior College of Augusta in 1957, according to university historian Dr. Lee Ann Caldwell. The land and historic buildings, such as Bellevue Hall and the Benet House on the Summerville Campus, once served as the Augusta Arsenal headquarters. The bell was being stored in this climate-controlled room with other bygone pieces of Augusta University lore.
The Augusta Arsenal Bell was cast a century ago — in 1918 to be exact — by the famous Meneely and Company, a family-owned foundry that operated in West Troy, New York, until closing in the early 1950s. The company manufactured more than 65,000 bells, said Caldwell, adding that Cornell University in New York, Trinity College in Connecticut, and Oglethorpe College in Georgia all have Meneely carillons, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Augusta has Meneely chimes.
Bells peal at colleges, statehouses, churches and corporate buildings throughout the U.S. and other countries. They ring for many reasons, and more commonly signal the time of day or announce the start of special occasions and celebrations.
Although the Arsenal Bell has been silent for decades, it will toll afresh at the 2019 Spring Commencement Ceremony, ringing in a new tradition for Augusta University.
“We will ring the bell three times at the beginning and three times at the end of graduation,” said Dale Hartenburg, assistant vice president of Student Services. “We hope to incorporate the bell for additional traditions, beginning with the incoming class in the fall.”
About 1,300 graduates will pass by the Augusta Arsenal Bell as they walk to their seats at Commencement. This conversation piece is sure to capture attention and show up in numerous graduation photos both now and for years to come.
A dedicated group of skilled craftsmen in Facilities combined a heap of compassion with a mountain of elbow grease to restore the Augusta Arsenal bell to a luster reflective of its original glory. They also carved and topped the bell with a sturdy wooden cap, embellished by a small inset of the Arsenal Oak. This miniature version of the storied oak was created using wood from the original tree.
You can see this piece of history during the official unveiling of the bell at 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 29, in the Jaguar Student Activities Center on Summerville. You are encouraged to snap selfies and other photos of the bell and share them on social media with the hashtag #AUGArsenalBell.
After graduation, the bell will be placed on display in a designated location on the Summerville Campus. Then, after it is rung at Fall Commencement in December, the Arsenal Bell will move to a special place on the Health Sciences Campus, and likely continue to rotate from then on, according to Hartenburg.
“There are many things we’d like to do with the Arsenal bell, but it weighs a ton … well, 586 pounds, but you understand the challenge. So, we have to be thoughtful about what we plan,” said Hartenburg.
“I am in awe of this incredible discovery. The bell and bell tower are part of our new brand, and the Arsenal Bell is part of our history. The bell will ring in a new tradition and serve as a resounding celebration of our past, present and future.”