Support for Berryville Landmark Rings Loud and Clear

Clarke County maintenance crews have reclaimed the area around the Johnson Williams Middle School bell tower built in 1965 - Photo Edward Leonard

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.

 

 

Comments

  1. Bob Kelly says:

    Mrs. Lee,

    There were two bells in that tower: One from Berryville High School and one from Boyce Agricultural School. Both were moved to the new high school when it was underfunded, many years ago.

  2. I believe the class of ’87 was the last to graduate from the Old CCHS, not ’86.

  3. Dan Allen says:

    If my failing memory serves me correctly, the bell tower was gift to CCHS from the Class of 1963. I was a member of the class of 1964 and it was in use in 1964. The powers at be at the time liked the idea of a bell tower over the rock because the rock was a favorite site to paint graffiti and other possibily objecttionable things and the bell tower might stop that sort of thing.

  4. This is fantastic! I remember always admiring the bell tower when I was at JWMS, though it was already pretty overgrown at the time. I remember students often wanted to go up to the tower but they were never allowed to because it as overgrown and teachers were afraid of them getting hurt. It’s such a shame it has been neglected all these years, but I’m glad those days are gone!

  5. Stephanie says:

    The Class of 1987 was the last class to graduate from the old high school. The bell was in the tower for our graduation and was moved to the new high school after June 1987.

  6. Yep – Class of ’87. Some of us were (& still are) a bit “vertically challenged” and needed a boost to ring it @ graduation.

    And doesn’t the Rock look bare?

  7. I see all the old paint on “The Rock” has either eroded or been removed. There were probably at least 80 coats of paint on there over the years

  8. The bell tower project is coming along nicely. The SCA, under the direction of Diane Sheehey, have had a few fundraisers for the project, and now the Environmental Club is looking at planting some native plants to prevent erosion. The project was originally started because of concern over broken glass and other “unmentionable” objects in the area. (The middle school cross country trail loops around the tower.)

    We are currently in need of someone to look at the tower and determine how to best restore it to it’s original beauty. The roof is made of wood, the surrounding structure is brick, and there are metal rails up the stairs.

    The kids at the middle school are very excited about having their own bell tower. It would be nice to hear more stories about how the tower and the graffiti wall were used by the graduates of CCHS.

    • Are there any fundraisers outside the school? Given the number of comments, I am sure some of us in the community would like to help! Thanks!

      • Currently, all fundraising activities have been held and planned by the SCA. If anyone would like to help, by donation of funds, labor, or building or landscaping materials, please contact Diane Sheehey at sheeheyd@clarke.k12.va.us.

        We would like to plan a workday in the not-to-distant future, and I think it would be appropriate for residents of the county who graduated from the old high school to be the first to ‘paint the wall’. (Show the kids how it’s done!)

        • The painting part would have to be at night. I don’t think I’d know how to do it during daylight hours:)

        • Name a day. I’m sure a few folks will show up with a couple of gallons of paint

    • Bob Kelly says:

      I wonder if the youngsters at JWMS would be interested in a living history project about the bell tower and it’s bells, the rock, Bertha, sled riding, and all the tradition that surrounds that magical place.

      Well, it was magical to me. (grin)

      • YES!

        We’re excited about finding out as much as possible about the history of the tower and the surrounding hill and rock! This restoration project is for everyone, past and present!

  9. Bville-Bud says:

    I’m partially responsible for a coat or two of the paint that went on the rock. The tower & hill was used by the football team also, win and ring the bell, lose and run “Bertha”. Seems I ran more than rang in the day…

    • Gary Jenkins says:

      Running Bertha was one thing…. Carrying a 200 lbs lineman on my 160 lbs body while I did it was another thing…. Seems I may have carried you a time or two, bud…. They said pair up with somebody about your size, how did I get piared up with Levi??

  10. Bill Thomas says:

    All the sports teams would ring the bell after a victory. A war almost broke out once when a visiting team attmepted to ring the bell. Seniors would get priority in painting the rock although anyone could paint it. It was “the” spot to take graduation pictures. Hard to believe what was a central piece of the school was forgotten and left to rot. Glad to see it’s making a comeback.

    • That was Handley wasn’t it? I seem to remember having a hand in “defending” the tower;)

      I think my favorite non class themed painting was in the very early 80’s. It was a black background with white letters and simply said:

      Death to Khomeini

      • Bill Thomas says:

        I can’t remember who it was- they didn’t ring that bell that’s for sure.

        “Nuke the Nerds” was my favorite rock painting- crazy kids….

      • Gary Jenkins says:

        I remember this…. funny how appropriate it still is….

    • Bob Kelly says:

      I believe it was Brentsville, after a baseball game. Ask Bret Fuller; he would know.

      The other giant controversy over the bell happened when Charlie Lutman’s footballers tied Musselman 0-0, then rang the bell. The next season when the Eagles went to Inwood the crowd at the gate onto the field was filled with fans who asked “Where’s that ***damned bell now.”

      Those were the days.

      • Heh, heh. That was the year after Mussleman killed us something like 52-3. Of course, we got killed a lot back in those days. Still good times though

      • Stonebroke says:

        It was against Brentsville…But Fuller had nothing to do with it. Singhas was the baseball coach and Specht coached the girls softball team. Happened around ’87. Brentsville went up the hill to ring the bell and Specht told them if they rang the bell that they better not come back down the hill. In the meantime…(the late) Frankie Jackson drove his Truck up the hill to cut the players off at the past. Specht was so mad he went into the locker room and busted his knuckles up after punching the lockers. Damn those were the good ole days! I think Me and Sing was sitting on the locker room steps laughing the whole time.

        • Bob Kelly says:

          Thank you for the clarification, Stonebroke. Your memory is better than mine.

          I do wonder why you and Coach Singhas sat there laughing. Too cool for the room, or was a show of school spirit just that hilarious to you both?

          • Stonebroke says:

            Not that we was too cool for the room, but that we was probably the only coolers there. Remember Dalton from Roadhouse? Well that pretty much sums up Me and Singhas. Bad Mofo’s!

  11. Stonebroke says:

    Maybe the kids will have a place to sled ride again!

  12. livein22611 says:

    Great to see this uncovered. Not sure why it was allowed to disappear for awhile but should be great for the students at JWMS to bring back this landmark. Things are starting to look better around there. Thank you Mr. Levi.

  13. Mary Daniel says:

    There is a lot of community excitement over this project. I can see it from my back porch, but having attended a different high school, didn’t know what it was until the CDN article. I’m sending my check to the JWMS-SCA right away! Please do the same, as these kids are working hard and every little bit helps.

  14. I have great memories Of sled riding down that hill!! I had just told my 5 year old
    back in January about the big hill Mommy used to sled ride down. I even took her over
    there to see if kids still went down it, but it was all grown up. I’m so glad to have
    seen this article, it brings back so many memories! We couldn’t wait to become Seniors
    to be able to paint the Rock!! I also lived in town and always knew when Clarke County
    would win in sports because I would always here the Bell ring. I know I have pictures
    of the bell tower in my yearbook. I am so happy it is being cleaned up. Maybe our kids
    can create the fun memories that I have!!!

    • I have found several pictures in my old yearbooks of the bell tower and my sister
      and the cheerleaders painting the rock!! The rock was a big part of CCHS tradition!

  15. Gary Jenkins says:

    I am so glad to see this great piece of history being restored as it should be. I myself rode by this hill recently and was dissappointed to show my sons what had become of this great thing I had spoke of so often. We used to joke that the actual rock under the millions of coats of paint was actually only a small stone….

    • DAWN PRICE says:

      OH YOU GUYS CRACK ME UP I LOVE THE OLD STORYS OF THE BELL AND ROCK YOU ALL JUST OLD FOGIES NOW HA !! LOOK IN YOUR 1980 AND 79 YEARBOOK AND YOU CAN SEE 2 BELLS IN THE PICTURE WES DID NOT KNOW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT LOL WHAT ALL DID YOU DO AT THE ROCK !!! MY FUNNY … GOOD MEMORIES FOR YOU GUYS SHOULD HAVE A REUNION THERE !

    • Or that if Mr Tansil actually went through with his threat of making whoever he caught scrap the paint off the rock the bell tower would fall in since the layers of paint were the only thing holding it up. Wouldn’t it be a trip to be able to remove each layer of paint and see what was painted there over the years?

  16. I think the Clarke County Historical Association would be thrilled to participate in assisting with the archive of The Rock! A great little slice of county life we should record with photos and stories, for all us old-timers who knew it then, and all those who do and will in the future.

  17. We have a great landscape plan (donated by Motter Landscaping of Berryville!) to give the area a park-like feel using native Virginia plants. Any donations are welcome. Just note “Bell Tower” in the memo section of checks. The kids are excited and after we pick up some sticks we’ll be ready to start planting.

  18. Cheryl Levi says:

    My husband has many stories regarding the bell tower when other teams rang OUR bell, That was a major mistake on their part LOL! I have many pictures of the caalss of 1987 painting the rock. We were the last class to graduate from the original CCHS. We also had senior pictures taken at the tower as well as the Homecoing courts over the years. I have very fond memories and can’t wait to the the finished project! Also, we have our paint brushes ready for the “rock”!

  19. DAWN PRICE says:

    NOW THIS IS WHAT LIVING IN BERRYVILLE IS ALL ABOUT CLOSE KNIT !!!!

  20. Yeah, that’s exactly what a newly cleared, manicured and spotless space needs – paintbrushes.

    • DAWN PRICE says:

      where is your brush this has been a tradition over the years no joke pun in this one loosen up some the whole thing has been about classmates painting the ROCK !! NO ONE IS GOING TO MESS WITH THE BEAUTY THEY ARE CREATING WITH MAKING THE TOWER RISE AGAIN …. GOOD HARD WORK HAS GONE INTO THIS AND I AM LAUGHING AT ALL THE WONDERFUL STORIES I HAVE HERD OVER THE 17 YEARS OF MARRAGE WITH A CCHS GRAD!!!!! CLASS OF 82 YOU ROCK AND THE CLASS OF 87 ROCK TOO!!!!! BRING ON THE PICTURES TO MAKE A SCRAPBOOK FOR YEARS PAST ..
      not yelling cap stuck sorry

  21. Im so glad that they are cleaning up the bell tower.i have always wanted 2 see it in its state of beauty.but it was so overgrown that you couldnt admire it.thats why im so glad that its getting cleaned up.thankyou everyone whos workinng on cleaning it up for your hard work time and donations to restore the bell tower to its former glorious beauty.