Park serving as faculty marshal in academic processions, holding a bell.

Leland Park

“In Memory of our soldier dead,
To you from falling hands we throw the torch;
Be yours to hold it high.”
– Chambers Bell inscription.

Early Bells

The earliest college bell was small and attached to a wooden rocker that was rung by pulling a string. It was used to signal the beginning and end of classes, as well as (until 1841) calling the students to and from their manual labor.

At every Davidson College Commencement, the Chief Marshal carries Davidson College’s original bell, probably cast in the early 1800s. It was found circa 1850 buried under a barn on Arthur Edward Armour’s property in Davidson, who gave then it to his daughter Louisa Susan Armour Gudger. It was later returned to Davidson College by the descendants of Louisa Gudger.

How would the Davidson College bell become buried under a local barn? Leland Park, former Davidson College library director, theorizes that a student buried the bell as a prank. The historian Mary Beaty claims that two favorite student pranks were “taking the Bible from the Chapel [and] destroying the college bell, that much hated symbol of schedule and authority.” [Beaty] In 1849 the College spent $92 to buy a new bell; perhaps the wayward bell they were replacing was the one hidden beneath the Armour barn?

When he found the bell, Arthur Armour mounted the bell on a handle, so it could be rung by hand (instead of via mounted rocker and a string). In 1996, Bill Corriher of the College Shop crafted a new wooden handle for the bell.

The Chambers bell is removed for the renovation

Chambers Bell

Chambers Bell

When most people think of the Davidson College bell, however, they think of the large bell mounted on top of Chambers Building. The first large college bell was installed there in 1860. The bell loyally rang students to chapel and classes for over 60 years, until it was thoroughly destroyed in the Chambers fire on Nov 18, 1921; it was first melted by the heat, and then smashed by its fall to the ground.

Major Hearn’s ROTC students stepped up with their bugles to replace the Chambers bell, bugling students to chapel and classes. To save on man-power, President Martin soon replaced the buglers with a team whistle installed on top of the commissary. When the steam whistle began malfunctioning, a train engine bell was installed instead. This proved functional, but students and faculty clamored for a louder bell.

The Hon. Brevard McDowell of Charlotte NC, the former mayor of Charlotte and an 1869 alumnus, heard the need and donated a bell in honor of Davidson alumni who died in World War I. MeNeely Bell Co. of Troy, NY created the bell. The dedication ceremony was held on September 14, 1922; the gift accepted by President Martin on behalf of the college and by Sam Davis (SGA President) in behalf of the students. The bell was hung in a temporary tower north of the armory until the new Chambers Building was completed.

By the 1980s, a buzzer was being used to signal the beginning/end of classes. Davidson faculty complained about the intrusive and ugly noise until the bell was again used.

The famed Chambers bell has been in place for over 80 years. During that time it occasionally ceased working. The longest period it remained silent was from 1992-1994. The last time it ceased working was early 2002. The bell was removed on December 11, 2002 during the Chambers renovation and was shipped to Charleston, SC for repairs. After its return, the bell was displayed in the lobby of the E.H. Little Library until the Chambers renovation was completed in 2004. Since then students, employees, and visitors alike have enjoyed the sound of the Chambers bell before and after every class period.

Works Cited

Beaty, Mary. The History of Davidson College. Briarpatch: North Carolina, 1988: 40.

Brotherton, Tomothy. Email to Bobby Vagt and Leland Park. 11 December 2002. Bells (College) file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Campaign update.” The Davidson Journal. Spring 2003: 24.

Gudger, Dr. James Roby. “Davidson College Bell.” Essay. March 1975. Bells (College) file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Old Chambers Bell Replaced by Hon. Brevard McDowell.” Davidsonian. 1 June 1925: 8.

Park, Leland. Email to Bobby Vagt, Bill Giduz, and David Holthouser. 9 December 2002. Bells (College) file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Park, Leland. Letter to Bill Corriher. 30 May 1996. Bells (College) file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Power House Whistle Now Calls Students to Campus.” Davidsonian. 13 January 1922: 2.

“Rooftop Ringing Bids Chambers Bell a Better Future.” Davidson News and Events. 16 Dec 2002. Davidson College. 25 September 2003. <>.

Williams, Robert C. Letter to all faculty. 24 September 1986. Bells (College) file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Author: Tammy Ivins
Date: July 18, 2008

Cite as: Ivins, Tammy. “Bells” Davidson Encyclopedia, 18 July 2008.

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