Bell tower returns to old Jacksonville school

JACKSONVILLE — The town's old high school will get its bell tower back after a nearly 40-year absence.

Installation of the tower's new superstructure will be dramatic as a crane lowers the 68-foot tall steel frame through the school's roof and 21/2; stories to basement anchor points.

Mel and Brooke Ashland purchased the school in October from Cascade Christian High School to house their businesses and community activities. They decided to restore the bell tower as part of renovation work to the building, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

In 1959, the bell tower, then a wooden structure, was removed because it had deteriorated, according to town history buff Larry Smith. The original bell, minus its yoke which was not saved, now sits on a cement pedestal at Jacksonville Elementary School.

"The bell had a very practical purpose as well as being decorative," said Smith. "That's how you called kids to school."

The bell also was used on other occasions. It proclaimed the end of World War I in 1918, said Smith. In another tradition, four high school band members used to climb the steep stairway into the bell tower and serenade the campus at noon Fridays.

The Ashlands have sent a letter to Medford School District Superintendent Phil Long asking for return of the original bell. Smith said former Superintendent Steve Wisely had made a verbal commitment to return the bell if the tower was restored.

District officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The structure will be hoisted above the roof, then dropped though a 13-by-13 foot opening and holes cut in each floor. The four legs will be bolted to a 24-inch thick concrete slab that was poured for the project. For seismic protection, the tower will not be attached to the building.

"It's pretty unusual," said Bruce Gledhill, a partner in Hartsook Construction, which is renovating the building. "It will be pretty interesting to watch. A lot of prep work is going into it."

Installation is tentatively scheduled for the week of Feb. 11 but weather considerations could easily change the timing, said Gledhill. Gary West will begin assembling the superstructure on site Feb. 4. Cook Crane Corp. will hoist the 15,000-pound tower into place.

Fabrication and crane costs will be $65,000. Interior and exterior finish work will push the total above $100,000 for the bell tower, Gledhill said.

Once in place, the tower will be covered with plywood, then stucco will be applied to replicate the original appearance. The tower has a footprint of 14 by 16 feet. It will be about 2.5 feet higher than the original design so that those inside it can see over the roof line. In all, it will be nine feet above the roof line, and be open on all sides with a 6 foot high by 9 foot wide opening on the front side.

"You'll be able to see the bell pretty easily," said Gledhill.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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