For over 150 years, the Main Building’s voice has rested in the top of its west tower in the form of a 700-pound bell.
Wofford’s bell was cast by the Meneely Bell Foundry in West Troy, New York. Andrew Meneely started the foundry in 1826, after an apprenticeship with Julius Hanks, who was one of the earliest bell founders in America. (Hanks was a relative of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s mother.) A split between Meneely’s three sons led to the formation of a second Meneely Foundry in 1870, across the river in Troy, NY.
Together, the two Meneely companies produced an estimated 65,000 bells, many of which hang in churches and colleges throughout the United States. Bell experts regard Meneely products as being among the finest cast in America. Both companies went out of business in the early 1950s, due partly to increasing metal prices and partly to the increasing popularity of electronic bells and chimes. Because of the Meneely family’s position as being among the earliest and foremost bell founders, a Meneely bell today can be a valuable artifact.
The Wofford bell, inscribed “From Meneely’s, West Troy, NY, 1854,” weighs approximately 700 pounds. The bell is 33 inches in diameter and is supposedly pitched at “B.” It is held in place by heavy oak timbers about 20 feet below the apex of the west tower roof.
James H. Carlisle, Jr., a member of the class of 1885 and son of the College’s third president, wrote in his Memories of Wofford College manuscript, held in the college archives and available online, that the original faculty members and their wives all went to see the bell before it was placed in the tower. “This bell,” Carlisle wrote, “has always been noted for the purity and clearness of its tone. Farmers living four miles from the city tell the time of day by the ringing of the bell.”
When he was the editor of the Old Gold and Black in 1937, Dr. Lewis P. Jones ’38 climbed into the bell tower to survey the campus and examine the bell. “One rarely notices the bell,” he wrote, “yet it is the main regulator of life at Wofford.” Counting the number of rings each time the bell signaled a class change, Dr. Jones found that the clapper struck the bell some 1,300 times each week. Generations of Wofford students made bell-ringing into a part time job, earning scholarships by signaling class changes each day.
Throughout the years, the bell has been the object of student pranks. The rope has occasionally been cut and the bell’s clapper has been removed on occasion, perhaps by students hoping to postpone a test. The clapper, the device that actually makes the bell ring when the rope is pulled, was also occasionally stolen by students from other colleges as an intercollegiate prank.
In 2001, the college undertook to restore the bell. The Verdin Company, a nationally known clock and bell firm headquartered in Cincinnati, installed a new clapper and related hardware along with a new striking mechanism that will allow the bell to be rung by a digital bell controller. The days of a student receiving a scholarship to ring the bell each hour have long since passed into history. Today, the bell rings each hour and tolls as students march to baccalaureate and to commencement.