Wells College Bell Ringer
A quintessential part of Wells College history is Main Building’s prominent bell tower and the bells hosted there. Although the tower was built during the reconstruction of the Main in 1888, the tower wouldn’t house bells for several more decades. It wasn’t until 1922 that nine bells were gifted to the college by Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Messner. The Messners donated the bells in the memory of their daughter Lillian “Lillie” Messner Chapman, Wells College Class of 1912. The nine bells were cast in Troy, NY, by Meneely Bell, one of the last American bell companies. The company has since gone out of business. Sometime later in the 1940’s, a tenth bell, the E Flat, was also added to the Wells collection.
Once the bells were installed, Lillian’s father was the first to play them. He later organized that the bells be rung daily at 5:30 in the evening to announce dinner, as well as at convocation and commencement. Over time, the bells were also rung at 12:30 in the afternoon on weekends and on special occasions, such as weddings, Wells athletics victories, and in the rare occurrence of Cayuga Lake freezing over. This daily tradition continued at Wells for nearly a century, passed on from generation to generation of senior Wells students. Today, the tradition lives on through the Bell Ringers, a student club open to all class years. While student bell ringers have the freedom to choose the songs played, there are four songs that are required in the daily repertoire. They are the Jubilation, translated from the Wells College hymn book, the Vesper Peal, the Westminster chimes, announcing the hour, and the Alma Mater as the closing song.
After operating for 70 years, the bells were briefly removed from Wells during the summer of 1995 for cleaning and tuning. The bells were taken to the Verdin company in Cincinnati, Ohio for these services. Prior to this, it is believed that the bells were never properly adjusted and as such, were always out of tune. After a summer of maintenance, the bells were returned to the tower where they remain today. Sometime in the last few decades, the bells were also given names. The names in order are Fiddle, Goply, Artemis, Bartamus Flat, Cadaver, Dexter, Eeyore, Ejenstein, Faddle, and Goop.
Information taken from the print and photo collection of the Wells College Archives, Louis Jefferson Long Library, Aurora, New York.
Angela Paul ’18 and Tiffany Raymond ’10, Reference and Instruction Librarian