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Plan a Visit
The Society is open most Mondays from 2 to 5 (always best to call ahead) and
by appointment by calling President Bob Rafford at home at 203-758-9798 or his
cell at 203-206-4717, and you may email him at
Historical Items Wanted
We are in the process of compiling a photographic history of Middlebury and
welcome any photographs or other historical items. We will be glad to scan them
and return them to you or receive them as permanent additions to our collection.
The Middlebury Historical Society is located near the Middlebury Green on Library Road, Middlebury Connecticut in a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. It began as Center School, a two room school house built in the 1800's and later housed the Middlebury Public Library. It is maintained in its original condition and displayed here are many interesting items significant to Middlebury history.
President: Robert L. Rafford
Vice President: Agnes Lutes
Treasurer: Terrence McAuliffe
Board Members: Frank Mirovsky, Harold West, Dr. Ray Sullivan
and Edward B. St. John
Board Contributor: Zachary Marotte
Municipal Historian: Dr. Robert L. Rafford
Please click our Membership Tab and fill out a Membership Form or join the society online.
Dues are $15 per person and $25 per family.
For further information contact The Middlebury Historical Society PO Box 104 Middlebury CT 06762
Many of our members contribute time in collecting, organizing and displaying items of local interest. They sponsor guest speakers who cover a variety of topics such as local history, places and people. The Society holds an open-house after the Memorial Day Parade each year in May. The Society has a number of items for sale in their gift shop or by calling Bob Rafford at 203-206-4717.
by Agnes C. Lutes
Installed in the cupola of the brand new Center School in 1897, now the home of the Middlebury Historical Society, is the building’s best kept secret; the original bronze bell.
This bell is something special. Cast in West Troy, New York at the end of the 1800s, it was destined to be the voice of a country school house in the small town of Middlebury, Connecticut, population then under 1,000 residents. Its path here would have taken it down the Hudson River to Long Island Sound and then to a harbor on the Connecticut coast. From there it would be hauled by oxen to Middlebury. The Meneely Bell Company, where this bell was made, was founded in 1826 in West Troy, New York (now Watervliet) and continued to operate until 1952, producing over 70,000 bells during that time.
The bell’s casting reveals its foundry and place of origin: The Meneely Bell Company, Troy, New York. Bells are cast with a number of inscriptions ranging from the simple foundry name or donor to the more elaborate phrases that include the following: I convene the clergy, I bewail the dead, I arouse the slothful, I abate the lightning, I scatter the winds, I call the people.
This bell has a famous relative. A replacement Liberty Bell was produced at the Meneely Company for display at the World’s Exposition in Chicago in 1893, called the Columbian Bell. Included in the casting of this bell were numerous historical objects and personal items of various metals. Its total weight is 13,000 pounds. By comparison, the original Liberty Bell is just over 2,000.
Bell towers are interesting spaces and not for the faint of heart. There is that involuntary response of looking over your shoulder for bats. Additionaly, access is usually through an attic, across a shaky catwalk, or up a narrow stairway. In our case we must climb an almost vertical ladder in the back of a closet and through a trap door into the attic. From here another ladder ascends to a much smaller trap door into a narrow octagonal tower with a minimum of support boards around the edges where good balance is essential. This space is louvered. Light and fresh air enters and rain mostly stays out. Most of the space is taken up by the bronze bell, huge and heavy. It is worth the climb. The view is wonderful. Of course, there is the horrifying trip back down. You may have avoided Quasimodo up there but the real adventure continues as you find your way down through trapdoors and ladders.
This particular bell was silent for many years until our volunteer, Patrick, climbed into the belfry and was inspired. He worked on the bell itself, oiling it and making sure the parts moved freely. Then he replaced the rope which travels down through the attic to the kitchen below. At last, its lovely sound rang out throughout the Green and beyond for the first time in years, the first time in memory for those of us who work and volunteer at the Middlebury Historical Society.
One of the few bells in town that can still be rung manually, our
Historical Society bell rings a two-syllable peal of one specific note, the
classic ding-dong of full-circle ringing. The first tug on the rope raises
the bell to its upside down position. A ring is produced when the clapper
hits the bell as the bell swings down again and back up on the other side.
Each pull of the rope reverses the bell’s direction and it sounds again.
Sounds good? Please be our guest at the Middlebury Historical Society to hear the song of this beautiful bell.
Agnes Lutes is the Middlebury Historical
Society vice president.
To join or contact the society, call 203 206-4717 or visit middleburyhistoricalsociety.org.