Archived Story

One-room school bells coveted

Published 11:01pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recently I received a letter from my friend Don O’Brien, who is a retired school superintendent who lives in Glenview, Ill.
Don and I have corresponded with each other for more than 10 years, and he has been here to see me a few times.
Don enclosed a clipping called The School Bell and the Community.
Don said he has his grandmother Lois Amsden Morse’s old school bell on his desk.
He said in the past he had used it a couple of times to call faculty meetings to order.
He also said she used to row across Stone Lake in Cassopolis to teach in a one-room school.
He said his mother at 18 taught in a school in LaGrange. She and Don’s dad both went on to the University of Michigan and later Don did, too.
In the article Don sent, it told that after consolidation of the old one-room schools, those hand-held bells have more or less just about disappeared. You may find one in an antique store, but the price may be more than the cost of the school it came from.
Back in those old days boys had to help with the field work. The girls were kept busy tending livestock and household chores.
The farmers in those days used the ringing of the bell to tell their kids to get going or they would be late for school.
The warning bell rang at 8:55 and this was three to five gongs. And the bell was at 9 and it was just one gong. Also, these old school bells were used to let people know if someone’s house was on fire.
I was born in 1930 and as I remember, we had electric bells in our old Oak Street school. If I’m right, we had a large wooden wall clock in each room.
Do you remember in 1970 how people in Dowagiac were worried about the fate of Main Street with its popular tree-lined mall?
There was to be a public hearing conducted by the state Highway Department, which had plans to widen Main Street at an estimated cost of about $300,000.
Main Street was also M-40 and was termed by the Highway Department as a major artery that is not up to present standards for today’s traffic volume.
I remember when they talked about building the Dowagiac high school out on M-51 North just past the old Flanders and Ferris plumbing shop, but the ground was not suitable and ended being built on W. Prairie Ronde Street.
I read in one of the old papers I’ve been going through about the police booth that was at the northeast corner of Front and Commercial streets (this I don’t remember).
How many remember the old brick pavement on Front Street that was laid way back in 1894?
I can remember every time when going to Cassopolis from Dowagiac I always wondered when the old propped-up corn crib was ever going to fall to the ground, which it finally did.

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. E-mail him at

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