A university achievement, a notable Lumberjack athletic win or a community-wide celebration can now be commemorated in a way for thousands to hear and enjoy.
A project to restore and expand the bell tower of the Griffith Fine Arts Building on the SFA campus has recently been completed through a campus-community partnership. With funding provided by the Charles and Lois Marie Bright Foundation, the newly restored bell tower rings in a new era of Lumberjack pride and spirit across campus and throughout the community.
“The Brights always had a deep love of Nacogdoches and East Texas,” said Greg Williams, trustee for the Bright Foundation. “They would be very happy knowing that something old has been restored and improved for the entire community to enjoy.”
Community enhancement through historical preservation is among the Bright Foundation's objectives. Williams explained the CLMBF board members agreed the bell tower project had “historical significance and community benefits that would impact the SFA campus and beyond — into the city of Nacogdoches.”
Approved last summer by the SFA Board of Regents, the project added 10 new bells to the original 15 installed when the Griffith Fine Arts Building was constructed in 1959. The addition created a full two-octave chromatic carillon. The combined 25 cast-bronze bells can be played serially to produce a melody or sounded together to create harmony. Previously, the original 15 bells did not constitute any musical scale, which limited the types of melodies that could be played.
The Verdin Bell and Clock Company, the installers of the original bell tower in 1959, completed the project in two phases. In August 2016, the existing bells were dismantled from the frame and relocated to a temporary staging area in the tower. The original frame also was removed. In January, Verdin installed a new frame, delivered the 10 new bells, ranging from 84 to 977 pounds, and installed the entire 25 bells and new strikers on each. A.G. Perry and Son Cranes completed the tedious and skillful delivery of these items, from ground to rooftop to inside the bell tower.
The four legs of the new frame are more than 18 feet long, according to Steve Bacarisse, College of Fine Arts technical director. The crane suspended them at the roof doorway while the Verdin crew attached a chain hoist to guide them inside and into place.
A new computer system that allows for chimes and programming of a wide variety of melodies also was installed to operate the bells. Among the songs that will be chimed daily will be the SFA alma mater, according to Dr. A.C. “Buddy” Himes, dean of the College of Fine Arts, who took a personal interest in programming the tune to be heard at noon each day.
“SFA’s new strategic plan recognizes SFA as an institution that is ‘strongly grounded in tradition,’” Himes said. “Everyone recognizes that a university campus with a bell tower that is heard chiming the hours throughout the day can help provide a strong sense of identity and tradition. The new bells tolling the SFA alma mater daily will tie the bell tower strongly to this sense of tradition.”
Himes also envisions integrating the bell tower into campus and community life. For example, during the holiday season, the bells could be programmed to play carols as a prelude for any number of events while people are on campus, such as during the holiday lighting ceremony, the SFA Gala, the Choral Masterworks concert or the University Series Christmas show.
“The same could be true for other events throughout the year that attract the community to campus,” Himes added, “such as the Archie McDonald Speaker Series, or when the campus hosts important guests. Moreover, the bell tower also could be the centerpiece for various types of outdoor ceremonial performances that could include ensembles from the School of Music or community, including dedications or patriotic and memorial ceremonies.”
Himes said the Bright Foundation’s support of the bell tower’s restoration was critical to the project’s success.
“By working together, something of benefit for both SFA and the entire community has been produced,” he said. “Without this support, the bell tower would be continuing to deteriorate. I hope we can find other projects that may have the potential to further contribute to the Bright Foundation’s mission.”