No one in Birchwood Village seems to know the full history of the 200-pound cast iron bell that rested in the basement of Village Hall for decades.
What likely was once the civil alarm bell for the Washington County community of 900 was “all but forgotten about,” said Mayor Mary Wingfield. “This great piece of history was just hidden.”
But on Wednesday, six months after he started on the project, soon-to-be Eagle Scout David Doughty hoisted the bell into its new home: a 15-foot bell tower in front of Village Hall.
“It looks great, but how does it sound, Dave?” Gene Ruehle asked as the two appraised the finished project.
Doughty slowly walked under the bell, grabbed the rope and tugged. His wide smile seemed to answer Ruehle’s question.
Doughty, 17, looking for an Eagle Scout service project, turned to Ruehle, 86, for ideas back in February. Wingfield had told Ruehle about the old bell, so he threw out one possibility: building a bell tower.
“I thought it sounded like a cool idea,” Doughty said.
By spring, the plan was in motion. With the help of some friends and a jury-rigged carrying pole, Doughty got the old bell out of the basement.
The community pitched in money to buy the materials, and a budget was set at $1,500. Over seven workdays, a crew of scouts and volunteers built the wooden tower, breaking only for lunch and often sharing a pizza sitting in folding chairs in the Village Hall parking lot.
“There were a couple of days in there when I doubted whether I’d get it done in time,” Doughty said. “But we did it and it feels really good.”
City Administrator Tobin Lay said the bell likely will be used for upcoming community events.
“Of all the projects you could have chosen, you took on a huge one,” Lay said to Doughty on Wednesday. “We are really thankful.”
Ruehle nodded and chimed in.
“I got goose bumps seeing it completed,” he said, adding that the project exemplified the collaborative community spirit that drives the small city.
Over the last several years, Wingfield said, she’d occasional broach the idea of finding a use for the bell.
“It never really got any traction,” she said. “I guess it took an Eagle Scout to get it done.”
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440