North Alabama is home to some of the oldest institutions of higher education in the state, including LaGrange College. The college was opened with the sponsorship of the Tennessee and Mississippi Conferences of the Methodist Church in 1830. The LaGrange Bell, a symbolic icon for the institution, was retrieved for safekeeping by Athens State in 1926, and has remained in the University’s care for over 90 years where it called students to class for decades. The LaGrange Bell will now return on permanent loan to the LaGrange Historic Site where it originally tolled.
In commemoration, Athens State University and President Robert K. Glenn are honored to present the bell to the LaGrange College Historic Site during the 30th Recall LaGrange Festival. The festival will be held May 4-6 from 10 am – 4 pm at the LaGrange College Site Park. The LaGrange Bell Homecoming Ceremony will take place on Friday, May 4 at 2:30 pm. The weekend-long festival will be free and open to the public.
The LaGrange Bell has a long history with Athens State University. After surviving the destruction of the Civil War, the bell was rescued by an old sexton who climbed to LaGrange’s belfry and saved it. The bell then remained in his possession until he gave it to a small rural Baptist Church in the area. Decades later in 1926, the President of Athens Female College, Mary Norman Moore McCoy, sought out the bell upon hearing news of it during a visit to Florence, Alabama. She was able to attain the bell and bring it back to Athens State where the “first college bell to peal out its summons to students of higher learning in the state of Alabama” found use again at Athens Female College.
Soon after its arrival in Athens, a freestanding wooden belfry was made for the LaGrange Bell and placed between McCandless and Founders Halls. After calling students to class for decades, the bell was retired to the library in the 1960s. In 1998, Bruce Fogg of Athens cleaned and restored the bell to its original state, and Randy Vinson, an Athens State carpenter, designed and constructed the oak pedestal on which the bell is displayed. In the absence of appropriate caretakers at the bell’s original home in Leighton, Athens State University has kept and maintained the bell for 90 years out of respect for the legacy of LaGrange College and their shared history with the institution.
As Athens State University’s bicentennial approaches, the institution has agreed to place the LaGrange Bell on permanent loan to be publicly displayed at LaGrange College historic site in Leighton. The bell that has been loved by students for decades at LaGrange and Athens State University now has the ability to toll once again where its history began.
Athens State’s resilient history of continuous operations despite financial concerns, state epidemics, and devastating wars serves to illuminate, in part, why the LaGrange Bell was so treasured at the Athens State campus. As a rare artifact of a lost kindred college on LaGrange Mountain and a long history unique to Northern Alabama, the historians and archivists at Athens State University were dedicated to the safekeeping of the LaGrange Bell.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]