A complete set of Festival of the Bells collectible glass bells is being raffled off by the Highland County Historical Society to help raise money for its ongoing capital campaign fund.
How the society came up with a complete set is a bit of a story.
A couple years ago, former Hillsboro librarian Judy Lindley donated a set of the bells, all with the same number, that were originally sold as fundraiser for the festival to the historical society. But she only had 19 of the 21 bells. She was missing the very first bell and another one.
Sometime after Lindley donated her collection, historical society member Avery Applegate came across one from the very first set that was for sale online. She mentioned it to historical society members John Kellis and Rocky Coss, who Lindley had given her set to for the society. So they looked up the bell that was for sale online.
“Rocky said, ‘That’s a pretty good price. For $150 I’ll buy it as a donation to the society and we can add it to the collection,’” Kellis said.
Then a while later Kellis was looking over some of the items for sale in the society’s Highland House Museum. He noticed a Festival of the Bells bell for sale. When he looked a little closer, it just happened to be the last one needed to make Lindley’s collection complete.
Raffle tickets for the bells set are now on sale from any historical society board member or at the museum. The museum, where the bells are on display, is currently open from 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and will be open more often as the holidays approach. Tickets are one for $5 or five for $20.
The raffle winner will be drawn on New Year’s Eve when a traditional ringing of the bell in front of the museum takes place at midnight.
Kellis said the capital campaign has raised about $280,000 of its goal of $350,000. He said that while the society is not actively advertising the campaign now, it is still taking donations and trying to raise money other ways like raffling Lindley’s bells.
More than $100,000 of the campaign funds were used to replace most of the back wall, and make some other repairs, at the museum. Repairs are being made at the society’s Scott House thanks to $110,000 the society received through Ohio’s 2017 Capital Budget Bill. That $110,000 counted toward part of the funds the capital campaign has raised.
Kellis said there are other projects the society would like to undertake, but it is waiting to see how much the repairs to the Scott House cost before committing to anything else.
The Fenton Art Glass bells were sold as festival fundraiser for 21 years. Former Highland County Clerk of Courts Paulette Donley, who was on the festival committee at the time, organized the sales.
“Dorothy Hodson was on the committee and we were brainstorming to try to find ways to finance the festival,” Donley said. “We said it is a bell festival and we should at least have a commemorative bell item to sell each year for the festival.”
They started searching around and found Fenton Art Glass could produce bells. Then it was decided to put an etching of a historical landmark from around the county on the bells. The first etching was of the Highland County Courthouse. There were about 10 other county landmarks, plus several churches, etched on the bells over the years.
“We couldn’t do anything without the artwork and our friend Mike Bick. We approached him and he said that he’d be glad to do that,” Donley said.
Bick is a Hillsboro native and longtime local educator and artist.
Donley said 400 bells were made the first year, about 600 the second year, and 850 was the most ever produced in one year. She said the bells sold out every year.
“All in all it was great fundraiser for the festival, and I think the festival thrived through the sale of the bells, but again the community supported the sales,” Donley said.
The bells were sold from 1991 to 2011.
“I was no longer on the festival committee,” Donley said. “I don’t know if interest waned or they ran out of buildings or historic items to put on them, but I think that as with anything they just kind of ran their course.”
Kellis said he’s hoping there will be lots of interest in the full set.
“It was certainly a great fundraiser and we were able to bring bigger-name entertainment to the festival because of the sale of the bells,” Donley said. “They’re still collectible and I hope the historical society is able to get some money out of them. Anything that’s reminiscent of Hillsboro’s past is worth collecting.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.