When “heirlooms” aren’t identified, and their stories never told, then they often become items that are tossed or sold – as they have no history, no ties to the family. So take the time to identify your family heirlooms history and memories so your treasures aren’t tossed in the trash. They are just as valuable as your family photographs and also need to be documented. Sometimes it’s not even the value of the item in question; it’s the story which holds the value.
The McKinley Farm Bell
In 1973 the “Bell” went up in our front yard
In growing up, the best thing about the bell to me, was hearing the “ping – ping” sound it played when I shot my BB gun at it!
Granddaddy’s farm bell was usually my first target whenever I took my gun outside at the farm. Those ping sounds never lasted long as granddaddy quickly appeared out of nowhere and gave me “the look”. I only was yelled at when I actually dared to pull the long rope dangling down – who could resist a few pulls – and boy was it loud! From a little search on farm bells I discovered that the sound of a mounted bell can travel anywhere from ¾ of a mile, up to 7 miles. It’s hard to believe the 7 mile part, but as sound travels in a line, well I guess anything is possible.
As there were no communications like today, those farm bells were the only resource before the telephone connected them to their neighbors. Too bad I couldn’t ask my grandfather if he ever had to ring for help, and if he did, exactly how did the neighbors know who was ringing the bell? Another question that I have no answer for!
Besides being a source of emergency, its daily task was to call the farm workers in from the field for meals. My mother does remember it being used in calling the workers from the fields for the dinner meal, but has no remembrance of it being rung for any emergency. She also remembers, that whenever it was rung, the dogs in the yard gathered under the bell post and howled, as it hurt their ears. Granddaddy kept the rope tied up high when I was small so I couldn’t ring it.
Now as to where this heirloom came from, well it belonged to my great grandfather, Edgar Lawson McKinley. My mother says, as told to her, that it originally came from her great grandfather. If that is true, then it belonged to Hugh L. McKinley, son of William and Sara (Beaty) McKinley, who was my first line of McKinley’s to migrate into Putnam County, Georgia from Mecklenburg Co., N.C. Could this bell have come from North Carolina? At this point in time, it’s some speculation and a lot of wishful thinking. Another question that goes unanswered!
Not long after granddaddy bought his 117 acre farm from the government, his father gave up farming and moved closer to town – he moved one small town over into White Plains. My mother was about ten years old and remembers that before her grandfather moved, her father went over and took the farm bell down and brought it to his farm. Everyone wanted it, but somehow he planned ahead and it became his.
It was originally mounted on a post in the yard near the house, but after it rotted away, granddaddy remounted it on a cedar tree at the edge of the yard. The cedar post was actually still a living cedar tree, planted many years ago by mama’s brother Leroy when he was a young boy; he planted it for his mother. Granddaddy trimmed the cedar tree to a bare post and mounted the bell on top and creosoted it. It now stood by the road near the driveway. He knew once it was mounted on the cedar tree post – it wasn’t going anywhere.
The bell remained on granddaddy’s farm until 1973; I was now married and finally wanted the family antiques. In growing up, I always told mama, “don’t save these things for me, I don’t want them.” How quickly things changed. Good thing she paid me no mind!
We drove down in our “brand new” 73 Volkswagen – our first new car. It was that bug, which hauled the U-Haul trailer that brought all those heirlooms to our home; and it was filled to the brim and nothing broke! Well almost nothing, I managed to poke a hole through the cane seat of grandmamma McKinley’s rocking chair – but only after it arrived intact! My husband was a great packer – it was me that wasn’t a good un-packer! I had now brought home all the antiques that I’d told mama I didn’t want – my very words being, “don’t save these things for me, I don’t want them.” Now look what happened – heirlooms exploded all over my house and now I’m writing about them – one by one.
The day my husband took the bell off the cedar post, granddaddy Bryan came over. Probably thought, my Yankee husband needed supervising! Remember I’m a Southern girl who married a Yankee! My husband climbed the ladder and lowered the bell and cradle down to granddaddy Bryan. It definitely had some weight to it, there was no way you could just hold onto it as you climbed down. Granddaddy probably thought we couldn’t handle the bottom part of holding onto the bell, so he came to ensure it came down in one piece. “If only I had documented that day with a photograph, but I can still see it in my head; when are they going to wire our brains to a printer?”
Later after the bell was down, my husband said, “I wonder who put this bell up” and granddaddy said… “It was a big man and he carried it on his back, all the way up the ladder.”
If this bell could talk – all my questions would be answered!!! It weathered many seasons on that post.
At present my husband is restoring it – the post rotted away and soon it will be remounted again on a new post.
Ranging in weight, from 35 to 90 pounds, the sizes of a farm bell is designated by a number. A No. 3 farm bell, which mine is, weighs about 70 pounds and has a base diameter of 18 inches.
Click Friday Night Family Heirlooms to read more stories…
© 2016 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco