In our outdoor exhibit at the Lowndes County Historical Museum stands a belfry containing the original Valdosta Institute school bell, which visitors can still ring.
The Valdosta Institute began in 1865 as a wooden structure. In 1885 six local citizens purchased the school on Central Avenue and gave it to the town with the intention that a new building be constructed. This established Valdosta’s first public school. A bell for the new facility was ordered in 1889 and a brick schoolhouse was completed in 1890. At the time it was the largest school ever built in Valdosta.
The bell was completed in 1889 by the McShane Bell Foundry and according to its certificate of authenticity; it was ordered on September 30, 1889 by W.L. Thomas and cost 19 1/2 cents per pound, plus 50 cents per pound for the mountings. Our bell was shipped to Valdosta by railroad on October 23, 1889. The total weight of the bell was 320 lbs. The bell in the museum’s belfry is one of the our main outdoor attractions and we invite all visitors to go outside and give it a little ring (but not too hard—it’s almost 130 years old). The belfry was designed to recall the turrets of its original home, the Valdosta Institute
When the institute was demolished in 1958, contractor A.D. Crosby made sure that the bell was preserved and given back to the Valdosta School System. It was on display for many years at Valdosta Junior High School before being put into storage from 1992-2007.
In 2004 Mrs. Eugnia Crosby, wife of the late A. D. Crosby, contacted the museum to tell us which homes in Valdosta were built from the original Valdosta Institute brick. Around that time, thanks to the work of former society president Louie Peeples White, the Lowndes County Historical Society became custodians of the historic bell. Bart Greer and Whiddon-Mayflower Public Warehousing graciously stored the bell free of charge until 2003 and Richard King of King Moving and Storage for offered the same courtesy until our belfry was constructed.
In 2007, the belfry was constructed on the museum grounds. Local architect J. Glenn Gregory provided the design for the bell tower and Dawkins Enterprises performed the construction. The turret on top of the tower references the design of the institute’s turrets.
The belfry was officially opened at the spring meeting of the Lowndes County Historical Society, May 20, 2007. The bell was first rung again, after so many years, by Mrs. Nan Allen, a 1926 graduate of Valdosta’s city schools and a retired educator. Mrs. Allen was happy to do the honors, commenting that when she was in school “only the boys were allowed to ring the bell”. She was joined at the event by many others who enjoyed ringing the bell.
Visitors can likewise come to the museum, explore our outdoor exhibits, and ring our historic bell.