The 160 Year Journey of Clinton’s Oldest School Bell

Jul 17, 2019

The 160 Year Journey of Clinton’s Oldest School Bell

clinton school bell
Mary McGinnis rings the bell next to the tower at Clinton Middle School in July 1972. Next to her is former Clinton Mayor Harlan Lewis with Superintendent Robert Grogan back left. Dick Williams is just behind Mrs. McGinnis with Gil Adams looking on.

By Richard Williams

A school bell has traveled around the village since 1859 and resides quietly in the lobby of the Clinton Middle School rebuilt auditorium today.

This bell story began in West Troy, New York in 1859 at the Meenely Bell Company. The 225 pound bell arrived in Clinton and was at the Hamilton College Chapel between 1859 and 1867. This was the second Chapel bell and has a pitch of G flat.

The College gave the bell to the Clinton Grammar School, one of Clinton’s early and more prominent private schools located at 86-88 College Street. This boys’ school for boarding and day students was a classical school which prepared the boys for colleges such as Hamilton.

The Clinton Grammar School started in 1813 over the Burns Agency at 29 West Park Row and moved to a new building at 86-88 College Street in 1816 and stayed there until closing in 1892.

At times other private boys’ schools of Clinton merged into the Grammar School which closed due to competition from the new Clinton Union School and Academy on Marvin Street in 1892, Clinton’s first public secondary high school.

The days of over 65 private secondary and primary schools had nearly come to an end here after 75 years.

During the Historic Clinton Week July 10-16, 1972 one highlight was the rededication of the bell at the Clinton Junior High School (now the renamed Middle School). It was intended to be mounted in the bell tower, a symbol of the Clinton schools since 1932. However, due to technical problems positioning it properly to ring clearly and loudly, the bell is now on a special frame in the lobby.

But back to the bell’s journey: after the bell was removed from the closed Clinton Grammar school in 1892, it found a home in the new Clinton Union School and Academy of District # 4 on Marvin Street.

Your historian, who attended Marvin Street School in the 1940s, cannot remember it ever being rung, but it might have been earlier.

With the Marvin Street School closing in the early 1970s, the bell moved to the Clinton campus on Chenango Avenue where it remains today as described above.

At the July 1972 re-dedication an honored guest attended the event. Mrs. Mary McGinnis, a lifelong Clinton resident then living on Kellogg Street, was one of the first pupils to enter the Clinton Union School and Academy.

Interestingly, her childhood home was located on the exact site of the new Academy, one of two homes removed to make way for the new building in 1892.

The inactive bell has had four homes in 160 years ranging from the College Chapel to a private school to two Clinton public schools.

The Clinton Historical Society mission is to collect, preserve, document, research, and interpret the Town of Kirkland and Clinton community’s past for current and future generations. We encourage you to support the Society and enjoy special privileges by becoming a member. Find out more here.