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Replica of Fernbank School bell back on Bridge Road

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bridge Road residents can welcome the return of the Fernbank School bell -- or at least a version of it -- as a replica was reinstalled last week in the heart of the neighborhood.

Once a gateway to the shops at Bridge Road, the bell was stolen from the neighborhood welcome sign in 2010 and most of it was sold for scrap metal.

"It was a little disheartening to hear about it, particularly when you made a specific spot for it," said Mark Davis, president of the Bridge Road Neighborhood Association. "You almost felt like someone broke into your home."

The bell's ring called area children to and from school each day in the early 1900s. Nancy Thomas, neighborhood association member and 50-year resident, said her husband and children attended Fernbank.

"Children, now adults, who went there can still recognize it," Thomas said of the bell's ring.

Buffy and Harry Wallace gave the original bell to the neighborhood association in February 2009. Harry Wallace bought it from former grocer Floyd Ellis, who acquired it when he bought the old school at a land auction in the 1980s.

The replica -- made of pieces recovered after the original bell's theft -- is prominently displayed atop a 10-foot-tall column at the base of the hill where the school once sat. Though a Rite Aid and other shops comprise its backdrop, this version rejuvenates the spirit of one of Charleston's oldest neighborhoods, said association members.

"When we put the bell in, it made it like it was coming home again," Thomas said. "It had sentimental memories for many, many people that either come back to Charleston or live in the neighborhood."

Bridge Road Councilman Courtney Persinger worked on the reinstallation project with the neighborhood association for two years. Despite never having heard the original bell ring, Persinger said he is excited that the replica is in place.

"I hope that the reinstallation of the bell creates some excitement to Bridge Road before the shopping season," Persinger said.

The reinstallation effort was a neighborhood one, Thomas said. Not only did the community work to raise funds for the project, but Persinger's construction company built the column upon which it is displayed, and Sears Monument Company helped install it.

"It wouldn't be possible without the support of the neighborhood," Thomas said.

A dedication ceremony for the Fernbank School bell will be held Sunday, Dec. 1, at the shops at Bridge Road. With the donation of a canned or non-perishable food item, attendees can ring the bell from 1 p.m to 2 p.m. Donations will be given to the Covenant House Food Pantry.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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