Skip To Main Content

Historic School Bell


A symbol of local school life more than a century ago has been refurbished and moved from a busy traffic circle at Midlakes Elementary School to another historic location for students and school community members to see when visiting Midlakes.

An effort, led by school and community members fueled by the spirit of Joy Wilkes, a former teacher, helped bring new life to the old Teft Avenue school bell, which was once buried and forgotten about during the mid-1900s.

"They buried the bell in the backyard," Clifton Springs Village Historian Jim Conners said in an email. "In 1950, when the new gymnasium was built (they were) digging in the area and surprisingly found the original bell."

The bell traces back to the Old Red Brick Schoolhouse, which opened in 1889 and closed about four decades later. Instead of bringing the bell to the new school, local leaders decided to bury it in the ground and left it forgotten until it turned up when a new gymnasium was being added to a new school.

"During the recent digging for the erection of the Central School addition, the old school bell was found imbedded in the earth," according to an article published in August 1950 in the Canandaigua Daily Messenger. "The bell, approximately 50 years old, is now in storage while the Board of Education considers the best way to preserve it."

The bell has moved around the community several times and was even showcased during the 1950 Sanitarium Centennial Parade and Clifton Springs’ 1976 Bicentennial Parade. 

Jerry Gifford’s love of local history inspired him to preserve the bell and later his wife, Jean, approached Clifton Springs Elementary School Principal John McGrath about the bell, where they found a spot to proudly display the bell for several years.

The bell was then moved to the District’s current campus when Midlakes Elementary School opened in its current home near Routes 96 and 488.

Efforts to preserve the bell re-emerged in recent years when the District’s $15.6 million capital improvement project, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2019, brought upgrades to the traffic loop/drop-off area at Midlakes Elementary School. Finding a new home for the bell would improve pedestrian and motorist safety by increasing visibility in the busy traffic loop.

The District’s Facilities Department then found partners to help restore and relocate the bell and Midlakes very own Jeremy Mattoon volunteered to help prepare an area on campus for the bell. 

Roy Wilkes and the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse Committee were joined by Travis Altman of Weslor Enterprises, a custom fabrication and welding business in Lyons, to support the project.

photo of school bell

Weslor sand-blasted, primed, and added a powder coat to the 500-pound bell to protect it from UV rays and other potential damage. Weslor also created and installed pillars to allow the bell to be anchored next to the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse, adjacent to the varsity stadium and school Transportation Facility.

Weslor, along with the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse Committee and school personnel, then placed the bell in its current resting spot shortly before the start of the 2023-2024 school year. 

Refurbishing and relocating the bell brought together several school and community partners, similar to the effort  spearheaded by Joy Wilkes and Mary Lue Mueller that brought the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse to campus on May 18, 2010.

Wilkes’ husband, Roy, was among those involved in both projects. He helped buy materials and poured the concrete for the bell to honor his late wife,who was a graduate of Phelps High School who was active in the local community.

"We’ve done a lot here," Mr. Wilkes said. "It was something she wanted to do. She was that type of person."

The Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse Committee plans to hold a dedication ceremony in the spring of 2024 for the bell.

PHOTO GALLERY: School Bell Installation

photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse
photo of installation of former teft school bell at the Midlakes One-Room Schoolhouse