By Beth David, Editor
Fairhaven residents turned out by the scores in the scorching heat on Saturday to witness the removal of the bell from the Rogers School building, and to get a chance to ring it.
The Fairhaven Bell Committee got the help of the A#1 Crane Company and Keith Silvia Custom Home Builder & Home Improvement, with materials donated by Fairhaven Lumber, and a lot of other volunteers, who all donated their time and expertise.
The bell was removed because the cradle is rotting out. Committee members said they were afraid it would fall off and get damaged. The committee is hoping to raise the money to restore the cradle and possibly return the bell, depending on the final fate of the school.
The town has tried to sell the building and is now going to hire a consultant to recommend possible uses for the building.
A gift of town benefactor Henry Huttleston Rogers, the building sits in the center of town and served as an elementary school for 128 years before closing in 2013.
Eve, Christian, Jacob, Nathan and Alexandria waited patiently as the riggers got things ready to remove the bell. Most of them had attended the Rogers School and now attend Fairhaven High School.
Nathan said he never went up to the bell tower, but he did get to ring the bell sometimes.
“It’s sad that it’s not open anymore,” said Eve.
“I kind of wish they had protected it, and renovated it, instead of closing it,” said Christian.
“It’s shame,” said Nathan.
Thirteen-year-old Shane had a practical view of the whole event.
“I guess it’s okay, so the bell doesn’t…fall through and break stuff in the school,” he said.
Shane’s younger sister Haylie, 8, said she wanted to watch the bell come down and have her picture taken with it.
Long-time friends and former schoolmates Sonja Jacobsen, Carol Backus and Polly Hood used the occasion to reminisce about their time at the school.
They attended in the 1950s, and remember that the third floor was condemned at some point and some students had to go to the Boys & Girls Club in New Bedford.
A little bit of back-and-forth among the friends and some others in the crowd followed as they tried to pin down the exact year that happened.
With lots of “you didn’t go to the Boys and Girls Club, but I did….” etc.
They did all agree that they went to school in shifts, 7 a.m. to noon and noon to….well, sometime in the afternoon.
They also remember going home for lunch.
“I used to walk up the block to school, then walk back for lunch, and then walk back again,” said Ms. Backus.
She remembered climbing down the banks of the “gully” that the railroad tracks sat in to cross over to go home. That would be where the bick path is now.
She could have gone around, but…
“There’s a lot of memories here,” said Ms. Backus.
The riggers rang the bell 12 times before hauling it out of the opening.
Then everyone watched as the bell got carefully lifted by the crane and then was suspended a couple of feet off the ground so people could ring it.
Unlike the Oxford Bell, the Rogers Bell still had its clapper in. So Committee members just tied rope to it and let people have at it.
Little Alleah Costa, however, just a toddler, gave that old rope a pull with a big smile on her face; then promptly started crying at the loud noise it made.
Not so for Doris Blanchard who was the first person to ring the bell.
Selectboard chair Charles Murphy was slated to go first, but gave up his spot for the 92-year-old, who was duly mortified at the attention.
“Embarrassed,” said Ms. Blanchard when asked how it felt to be the first to ring the bell. “That never should have happened.”
She said she worked in the Selectboard office for 20 years and volunteered at the Council on Aging and Our Lady’s Haven.
“My heart is broken, for the simple reason that they closed the school,” said Ms. Blanchard, whose children attended the school. “I just had to ring the bell.”
She waited from 9:30 in the morning for the privilege, drinking her water and waiting patiently.
He daughter Linda Blanchard said it was fitting that her mother rang the bell first, even if she didn’t think so.
“It was an ordinary person ringing and ordinary bell, and it was extraordinary,” said Linda.
“I couldn’t believe that Charlie Murphy didn’t ring the bell first,” said Doris.
Marie Sylvia also got a chance to ring the bell, saying that the janitor used to let her ring it back when she attended the school.
“It’s the first time in 60 years,” she said.
The 980-pound bell was cast by William Blake & Co., formerly Henry N. Hooper & Co. of Boston. It was dedicated on September 3, 1885, according to an article in the Fairhaven Star. It will be in a secure location until the cradle can be repaired.
Click to download the 8/18/16 issue: 08-18-16 RogersBell