Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Clothier Tower is one of the landmarks on Swarthmore’s campus. Yet for the past two years, its bells remained silent, sullen, and dysfunctional under scaffolding. Upon returning to campus after Fall Break however, Swatties were greeted with the ringing bells of Clothier Tower.
According to Ralph Thayer, the Director of Maintenance, the bells were turned off two years ago for major renovations and to fix an annoying habit. “They had developed an annoying habit of sporadically failing to ring one or two of the bells, especially after a rain,” said Thayer, “When you are listening for the four notes of the Westminster chime the loss of two notes is less than satisfying.” It was decided that the project would also include bell wiring and controls repair.
However, once the construction began, a problem revealed itself. “During the masonry repairs of the tower we found that one of the steel support columns which held up the bells had filled up with water and cracked,” explained Thayer.
The crew replaced the column and also added damping to the bell supports which helped to improve the sound. In October, new wiring, a new controller, and new hammers were installed, after which the bells began ringing better than before.
Many Swatties enjoy the return of the bells. Emily Bowman ’18 seemed to enjoy the renovation when she said, “I think they’re quaint and pleasant. It’s a pretty thing to hear.”
Sam Alofsin ’18 also spoke highly of the bells. “The bells remind me of my high school and the nostalgic feeling I get from hearing them is comforting. I live in ML so they never bother my sleep schedule,” said Alofsin. Sophia Zaia ‘18 of Wharton said that “as someone who is usually late to almost everything, I appreciate having the bell tower remind me of the time.”
“I was so happy to hear the bells return that I literally gasped and turned in my seat during class,” said Abigail Henderson ‘15, “not only are they a beautiful and somewhat rustic addition to campus, but they also help keep me on time!”
Riley Collins ‘16 was less enthusiastic as he said, “It’s nice that they are finally done with the renovations, I honestly don’t have much of an opinion on the bells, but they certainly have made me more aware of how much time I waste!”
The bells did not always reside in Clothier Tower. Maurice Eldridge ’61, Vice President of College and Community Relations, told The Daily Gazette about the bells back when he was a student. “In my student days the bell was in the old library, the building [partially destroyed by fire] below the present library and above the residences on the lower campus green,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge wasn’t always pleased by the bells, though. “There was a pleasant reading room on the upper level, just under the bell…so every 15 minutes the pleasant quiet was interrupted by its tolling. A lovely sound, but better taken at a distance rather than as if it were in the room with you.” According to Eldridge, they were moved to Clothier Tower after the fire.
Every fifteen minutes, the bells remind the campus of their presence. Wherever they are located, the bells are here to stay.