School bell to be dedicated to a special woman

FORESTVILLE – For 169 years the bell in Forestville has stood as a beacon of perseverance and hope, but as luck would have it the bell meant so much to a special woman who rescued it.

In 1839, Daniel and Anna Page deeded a lot from what was known as “the Common” to the Trustees of Hanover District 16. A two-room wooden school building was constructed in 1840 at this location on Park Street just at the bottom of the hill.

It was this school building that the ladies of the village felt should have a school bell. With fundraisers and donations, the ladies were able to raise the funds to buy the bell.

It was cast in Albany by D.C. Curtis in 1845. This bell rang each day at the school.

The Board of Trustees of District 16 purchased the land where the present school is located from Cyrus D. and Lucinda Angell for $700 in 1864. The 1840 building was given as part of the purchase price. Mr. Angell thought the bell went with the building, but the ladies of the village, who had worked so hard to raise the money to buy that bell, convinced him that it should belong to the school and be placed in the new building that was to be built on the new land.

This new two-story wooden building was erected in 1865 and completed in 1866. There was a belfry for this bell in the new building, and it was rung twice each day to open morning and afternoon school sessions.

The new brick building that was built in 1927 did not have a belfry, so the Alumni Association formed a committee to research a proper memorial setting for the bell. After much research, plans were secured for a wishing well type setting with benches surrounding it. This was constructed at a cost to the Alumni Association of $400. The bell was placed there in time to be presented to the school at the 1933 Alumni meeting.

The “Bell Tower” image has become a logo for the school. It appears on the letterheads, checks, programs, newspapers and other school materials. It was on class rings for many years. The bell is rung every year on the first day of school and at graduation, the Alumni Association meeting, and the first day of each school year. Student council members ring in the new school year and senior class representatives ring in a new future at the 1840 treasure.

Agnes Howard loved her home town very much. She has been called a mentor, a historian, and a friend to the people of Forestville. The Forestville Board of Education announced it will dedicate the school bell to Howard on Sept. 3 at the first day of school ceremony. The school was a big part of Howard’s life. She died on June 20 at the age of 97. The dedication ceremony is the school’s way of honoring a beloved gem of a person in the community.

Irene Waxham, Howard’s niece, noted the school was her aunt’s life.

“She worked other places, but the school was really her heart,” she said. “She really loved that school.”

Waxham explained the significance of the school bell to her aunt.

“The bell was part of the old school built in the 1800s,” she said. “Agnes went while they were building the new school and was part of moving the old bell to the new school.”

“Agnes worked as a secretary to the principal for a few years,” Waxham continued. “She became extremely attached to the school.”

At one point the bell tower was in bad shape.

“They wanted to destroy the bell, because it was old and rotten,” Waxham recalled. “Agnes said, ‘No way are you destroying that bell.’ Not only was it rebuilt, but Agnes made sure it would be used on the school checks and stationary. In honor of 118 years of ringing the school bell for Alumni ceremonies, Agnes kept that going.”

Howard felt very strongly about that school bell. She also became the school’s historian.

“The depth of her concern was keeping school records safe,” Waxham said. “Her heart really was in the middle of that school. The school was everything to her. She handled all the investments, worked with the banks, she was an amazing person. She had a very sharp mind.”

President Sylvester Cleary said the school board chose to dedicate the bell to Howard, because of all her hard work over the years.

“She was a monarch of our town,” he said. “She was one of those people who was always positive. She had the personality to lift you up with her presence.”

When Forestville talks of its community heroes, Howard was one of those heroes.

“She was a giver at heart and always wondered what was going on at the school,” Cleary said. “She was a true treasure. If our younger people could immitate her it would be a good thing. She engaged people to do better.”

“She inspired everyone around her and kept people committed,” he continued. “When you were around her you knew everything was going to be OK.”

Cleary noted she inspired him personally.

“Whenever I talked to Agnes she had a caring look,” he said. “You could tell her anything and she always had very calming eyes. That bell meant a lot to her, it was her baby. It is a wonderful tradition we keep of opening and closing the school year with the sound of that bell.”

Howard was the kind of person who made Forestville a home.

“One of the reasons why Forestville is such a wonderful place to raise a family is … because of people like her,” Cleary said.

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