Play-goers attending this weekend’s performance of “The Music Man” at Johnson Williams Middle School in Berryville will notice something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.
Just west of the school’s parking lot on a slight knoll anchored by a massive slab of Clarke County stone stands an “old”, but remarkably well-maintained, bell tower. The current brush clearing operation to reclaim the bell tower will soon deliver a beautiful “new” look to the grounds of Johnson-Williams Middle School. The bell from the tower was “borrowed” (readers please help here if you have details) in 1986 and moved to a new tower at Clarke County High School when the school was christened.
“Blue” skies are the only limit to what Clarke County can accomplish when its citizens work together.
“The tower is an attractive addition to our property. I look forward to restoring it and working with students, staff, and our community to keep the area attractive into the future,” said Johnson William Middle School principal Evan Robb. “We believe the bell tower has connections to students who have attended our school in the past and it is fantastic to bring it back as it was.”
According to the collective memories of people in the community, the bell tower was a gift from a Clarke County High School graduating class. Although a commemorative plaque was not immediately visible, a county maintenance working clearing brush around the bell tower said that the structure was built in 1965 when Johnson Williams was the county’s high school.
An informal discussion about the tower during a Clarke County School Board meeting further helped clear the cobwebs from the bell tower’s story.
“My daughter, Laura had a high school graduation picture taken in front of that tower in 1986,” said Clarke County School Board chairman Barbara Lee. “The Clarke County High School class of 1986 was the last class to graduate at Johnson Williams Middle School and I think the bell from that tower was moved to the current high school.”
School Board member Emily Rhodes gave credit to the Johnson Williams Middle School Athletic Boosters for initiating the request to clean-up around the old bell tower. Not only had the area around the tower become overgrown and unsightly, the brush and vines also provided a secluded area best described as an “attractive nuisance.”
“You would not believe what ‘fun’ things we found up there,” Rhodes laughed.
As with all worthwhile projects, clean-up and restoration of the historic structure won’t be cheap. As of last week, county maintenance crews had already spent two days clearing and hauling brush from the area. A county official said that he estimated another three days of time before the area will be ready for landscaping.
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“The JWMS Student Council Association raised some money with a boys v. girls basketball game a couple of weeks ago but I have no idea how much they raised and what is planned,” said Rhodes. “It is not a school board project but a J-WMS project.”
Principal Robb said that while some money has been raised, more funding is needed.
In the meantime, Robb said that the Student Council Association and the Environmental Club are planning to plant low maintenance native plants near the bell tower to prevent erosion. In the meantime the Band Boosters are spearheading the clean-up effort. Lisa Dale is a good Boosters contact.
“I’m really pleased with the work that has been done so far,” Robb said.
The Clarke County School Board has yet to take up the issue of whether Clarke County High School grand old bell will accompany students to the new school new location next year. Tradition suggests that Clarke County’s citizens would give the relocation decision a ringing endorsement.
Anyone wishing to contribute money or effort to the Johnson William bell tower restoration is encouraged to contact Emily Rhodes at EmilyR7@Verizon.net.
CDN Editor: An earlier version of this story stated that Ms. Rhodes had credited the Clarke County Band Boosters for initiating the effort to reclaim the bell tower. Ms. Rhodes in fact said that the effort was started by the Johnson-Williams Athletic Boosters, not the band. CDN apologizes for the error.