It’s been 85 years or more since the Camano City schoolhouse bell rang out over Saratoga Passage.

That will change early next year.

“It’s the crown on the schoolhouse,” said Ed Bednarczyk, a vice president of the Camano City Schoolhouse Foundation. “It’s symbolic; bells are just symbolic. It’s a sound that will return back to this community and certainly be heard out on the water.”

In 1906, the cast iron bell was perched atop the one-room schoolhouse, calling students to and from class until 1936 when the district consolidated with Stanwood, and all students were bused to town.

The bell was housed in a belltower until the 1940s when it was removed, possibly because the tower was rotting and people feared the about 300-pound bell falling through the roof, Bednarczyk said. 

The bell was taken to the nearby Camano Chapel.

“They were probably just looking for a safe nearby place to stash it for a bit, but it ended up being forgotten about,” Bednarczyk said.

The historic building sat mostly quiet until the Camano City Schoolhouse Foundation bought the site in 2012. Around the same time, the foundation received a call from the Camano Chapel.

Camano schoolhouse bell, 11.23.21

Ed Bednarczyk, a vice president of the Camano Schoolhouse Foundation, inspects the refurbished bell and its new tower that will be lifted onto the historic 1906 building in early 2022.

“Camano Chapel had the bell for — they don’t even know how long,” Foundation Treasurer Chuck Durland told the Stanwood Camano News in 2016. “They think since the beginning of the church. They had been moving it around from closet to closet for 65 years.”

By 2016, Tami Douglas had found boxes in their family’s 1911 Camano house from her great-grandfather, who had once been superintendent of the schoolhouse. She found his notebooks, filled with careful cursive and more than a dozen postcards from teachers. And, on the front of one of those postcards, a photo of the schoolhouse — with a belltower. 

Camano schoolhouse

The Camano schoolhouse seen in this undated historic photo with its bell in a tower.

For the foundation, that photo was the missing link. It was proof the schoolhouse once had a belltower.

While initial fundraising efforts and donations were aimed at restoring the building, the foundation members always envisioned the triumphant return of the bell. The crown jewel atop the schoolhouse.

“It took time to raise the money and secure donations, and the pandemic slowed us down, too,” Bednarczyk said, referencing COVID restriction limiting the group’s ability to host fundraising events. “We had hoped to have this done two years ago, but we can move forward now thanks to generous donors.” 

The project ramped up Sept. 15 when crews hauled in new beams to reinforce the existing schoolhouse so it can withstand the weight of the bell and its tower. 

Meanwhile, David Pelletier, a principal architect at Pelletier + Schaar in Stanwood, donated his time to help design the belltower — mostly based on a few surviving historic photos and from other historic Camano school buildings from that era.

“Camano has changed a lot over the years, so it’s nice to help preserve something,” said Pelletier, who has also helped with past Camano Schoolhouse projects. “Things can easily get forgotten about.”

Camano schoolhouse

The Camano schoolhouse will soon have a working bell atop the the historic 1906 building in early 2022.

Next, a company is set to reroof the schoolhouse. Then a crane will raise the bell and its new tower — weighing about 1,700 pounds — into place, likely in early 2022, Bednarczyk said. 

The foundation hopes to host a celebration at the schoolhouse in spring to mark the return of the bell.

“To ring in spring,” Bednarczyk said.

James Androuais, owner of McShane Bell Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, came to help with the installation, complete with automated equipment that allows the bell to be programmed and activated remotely from a smartphone. 

Androuais said the bell doesn’t display a date it was made, which was common 120 years ago with the more economically cast iron construction.

The tentative plan is to set the bell to ring on a regular basis — maybe clanging out three rings once a day — and more on special occasions. In addition, LEDs will illuminate the bell and its tower in any color of the rainbow for whatever the occasion.

“When you hear that sound,” Bednarczyk said, “it warms the soul."

Camano schoolhouse bell, 11.23.21

Ed Bednarczyk, a vice president of the Camano Schoolhouse Foundation, inspects the refurbished bell and its new tower that will be lifted onto the historic 1906 building in early 2022.

 

Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at ecaldwell@scnews.com and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.

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