By Michael Howell
Last June, Grantsdale Elementary School, which at the time was the oldest continually operating school in the state of Montana, closed its doors. But if the Bitterroot Valley Historical Society board of directors gets its way, the old bell tower and iconic bell that rang out for generations of Bitterroot school children will not go unheard. The aim is for the bell to ring out for future generations from the Ravalli County Museum lawn in Hamilton as a reminder of what once was.
The 620-pound bell and 23-foot bell tower have been removed from the old school building and are being stored at the home of BVHS board member Dennis Moore as the funds needed to install it on the museum grounds are being raised.
The Ravalli County Commissioners, who control the county-owned building and property, have already tentatively agreed to the plan. At the time the plan involved installing the bell and tower on a structure with a platform big enough to serve as a band stand and for other purposes. When the time came to make the move, however, there was not enough money to build the platform so the BVHS board revised the plan, downsizing the platform to the minimal size possible to support the bell tower.
The Commissioners, however, balked at this proposal for several reasons and expressed a preference for the original design as it would be more usable. As a result, the BVHS board decided to store the bell and tower for the winter and start a fundraising effort to pay for construction of the necessary supporting platform. Donations to the “Save the Bell Tower” fund can be made on the museum’s website by going to www.bvhsmuseum.org and pressing the Donate Now button, or simply call or drop by the museum.
Paving bricks to be used in the new installation may be purchased at differing price levels. Each brick will be engraved with an emblem of the bell and include one name or several in recognition of the donors.
Museum Director Tamar Stanley said that the aim of the project is not simply to preserve an incredible piece of the valley’s history but to use it as a way to keep that history alive. She hopes to develop an associated archive of oral histories, photographs, and other artifacts and memorabilia to preserve and celebrate the institution that persevered for over 124 years and played such a key role in the education and lives of so many people.