The new Bell Tower
By Thomas “Pap” H. Ewing
In the year 1922 the Snellville citizens came together to build a facility to house a Consolidated School including the first through eleventh grades. It was to be Snellville Consolidated School, and was the first rural consolidated school in Gwinnett County. The first High School class graduated in 1923 and the last high school class – including the 12th grade by then – was the class of 1957.
Sometime during the early years the school acquired a school bell. It was used to announce the beginning of school, high school class changes, recess, lunch and the end of the school day. Since there was little traffic noise in those days the bell could be heard all over the community – in addition to the school announcements, it perhaps gave the parents within hearing distance a feeling of comfort that all was well at “the school”. After the High School closed and became South Gwinnett High School, the facility continued on, first as an Elementary School and then as the first Middle School in Gwinnett County. Somewhere along the way, the school bell became obsolete and replaced by an indoor bell/buzzer system. Where did the old bell go? No one seemed to recall. Fortunately it had been acquired by the Windell Martin family and they had protected it from the elements. Early in 2013 Emmett Clower became aware of the existence of the old bell. After suggesting to the Martin family the Snellville Historical Society was interested in acquiring and displaying the bell as a valued part of the School and City Heritage members of the Martin family graciously volunteered to donate the bell to the Historical Society, provided they would properly protect and display it. The son of long time Snellville Consolidated School Principal, Clark Britt was asked to verify the bell was in fact the Old School Bell, which he readily did. Accepting the bell from the Martin family meant the Historical Society now had the responsibility of fulfilling their commitment for preservation and appropriate display.
The President of the Historical Society presented the matter to the governing Board. They enthusiastically accepted the challenge. Emmett Clower, long term Mayor of Snellville and Past President of the Snellville Historical Society as well as current President of the Snellville High School Alumni Association readily accepted the responsibility as Project Manager. This entailed fund raising, finding an architect for a design and finding contractors with unique skills. We are fortunate to have in our community Chad Alexander Smith, CAS Architecture, with family ties to the Old Rock School facility where the Bell was located. He volunteered to design a tower appropriate for the bell on the site selected. The old school was partially located on current Methodist church property and the Historical Society wanted the bell tower to be on the old school property. The Methodist Church readily agreed and we received their permission to use the site where the Vietnam Memorial was originally located. It was ideal, it was partially developed, and located on part of the old school property adjacent to a monument previously established and dedicated to the old Snellville School and street access right by the location.
The fund raising efforts were a success. Financial support came from The Snellville Historical Society, The Snellville High School Alumni Association, an anonymous donor, and ninety eight individuals from the Historical Society and Alumni Association responded with significant donations. Others made contributions in different ways, Emmett Clower, Project Manager, Chad Smith, Architect, Larry Davis, lighting fixtures, and Dexter Harrison sandblasted and painted the bell. The Windell Martin Family donated the Bell, the Methodist Church granted right to place the Bell Tower on their property and pay for the electricity for the lighting. It is truly a community supported project. The Snellville Historical Society is grateful to all who provided support, financial and otherwise.
The Tower with the bell is up. Emmett Clower, the Project Manager has announced the project is complete. We invite all to go by and see it. Those who attended school when the bell rang throughout the day may feel a little nostalgia. Those who were not privileged to attend the school will learn a bit of history and heritage of this proud community.