Festival of the Bells canceled for this year

Discussions ongoing to determine future location

By Jeff Gilliland - [email protected]

This bell cast by the C.S. Bell Company is displayed in front of the Highland House Museum in Hillsboro.

This bell cast by the C.S. Bell Company is displayed in front of the Highland House Museum in Hillsboro.

Times-Gazette file photo

For a year, the Festival of the Bells in Hillsboro is postponing its 36th birthday party.

Festival committee members announced that the annual celebration that was scheduled for July 2-4 will not be held this year.

“It is with deep regret and heavy hearts that the Festival of the Bells will be canceled for 2020 and scheduled to return in 2021,” a news release from FOB Committee President Rick Williams and co-vice presidents Beverly Carroll and Tom Zile said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought restrictions that would not allow us to have a safe and healthy experience at the festival. Protecting people in our community and visitors to our community during the festival is our top priority. The health and safety of all is paramount. We are currently working with agents, managers and vendors to create a great event for 2021 and are hopeful that community members, festival attendees, and artists are understanding and cooperative with our decision.”

Primarily held in the center of Hillsboro over the past 35 years, the festival was moved to a parking lot at Southern State Community College’s main campus in Hillsboro the past two years.

No announcement had been made where the festival would be held this year.


But it March, the festival committee posted this message on its Facebook page: “We have had multiple people reach out about the location of the festival as well as artist for the 2020 Festival the Bells. The dates are set for July 2,3 and 4. We can tell you that artist have been booked and will be released to the public soon. We have booked some amazing artist this year and we are excited to have them in Hillsboro! As for the location. We hear your concerns and respect your input as to whether or not it should be uptown or continue at Southern State. At this point in time we are in discussion with the city of Hillsboro to decide the best location as well as safest location for the festival. We will let the public know as soon as something has been decided about the location of the Festival of the Bells…”

Celebrate each year around the Fourth of July, the Festival of the Bells is an outgrowth of a successful 1976 bicentennial celebration of the country’s founding.

When local citizens were searching for a permanent name for a yearly celebration, it was noted that at one time Hillsboro was famous for the production of steel alloy bells, which were shipped around the world.

The festival is noted for its free country music concerts that in the past have featured up-and-coming performers including: Brad Paisley, Joe Diffie, Rascal Flats, Dierks Bentley, Trick Pony, Blake Shelton, Little Big Town, Taylor Swift, Julianne Hough, Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry and Parmalee.

Jim Hardin, a former publisher of what was then the Hillsboro Press Gazette, provided a history of the festival from a record he kept in 1984. Based in part on a history of the C.S. Bell Company compiled by local historian Jean Wallis, the record recounts the genesis for the festival.

“To be sensitive to all, this history may overlook some who came aboard after the initial start-up,” Hardin wrote. “For instance the ‘175th’ event which prompted the chamber to pursue an annual event.”

As Wallis’ history notes, a foundry known as the Hillsborough Iron Foundry was purchased by C. S. Bell in 1858. Bell was born in Cumberland, Md. in 1828. He studied under an uncle, Alexander Bradley, learning the foundry business.

Coming to Ohio, he took charge of the Whitney Foundry in Springfield, later going to Dayton before finally coming to Hillsborough where he purchased first the Clayton Foundry and began operations as the C. S. Bell Co. Historically, his operation was the first successful one of its kind to operate in Hillsboro.

From this start, the C.S. Bell Co.’s operation spanned more than a century under the same family. In the late 1800s, the company made cane mills, bellsand assorted farm and home related products.

It was about 1875 that the company began manufacturing a large variety of bells including church bells, fire bells, school bells, farm bells, alarm bells, fog bells, Spanish bells, Mission bells and almost any other type of bell. By 1890, sales were running over 20,000 bells a year. Also by then, there were at least 15 sizes being made, running as high as 1,600. This successful development led to world renown for the Bell Company.

In 1881, Charles E. Bell was given an interest in his father’ s business. The company’s name historically had undergone various changes due to other parties evidently gaining some interest, although the firm was incorporated in 1894 as the C.S. Bell Co.

The factory continued to prosper. C.S. Bell died in 1905 and Charles E. Bell continued the business, acting as its president. By 1920, the company employed from 125 to 150 men.

The Bell family was active in the community, C.S. Bell having built Bell’s Opera House in 1895 at a cost of $40,000. He was also involved in a variety of business ventures to include Merchants National Bank. He erected the three-story brick house on Oak Street known as “Clover Lawn.”

C.S. Bell’s daughter, Alice Morton, married I.B. Boyd, whose home is next to the Bell home on Oak St. Boyd was associated with the C.S. Bell Co.

In 1934, a Mission Bell was presented to President Franklin Roosevelt as a birthday gift for use at Warm Springs, Ga. It was inscribed especially for the president.

Because of a decline in the use of bells after the turn of the century, the C.S. Bell Co. had become prominent in the production of a variety of other foundry products. However, because of the war effort, in 1942, the company went back into full swing production of making bells as a result of the navy’s need for watch bells. At this time also, the C.S. Bell Company developed the Air Raid Warning Bell.

During World War II, the C.S. Bell Company produced bells for battleships, cruisers, flattops, landing craft and all other classes of U. S. fighting ships. There were bells stamped USN for the United States Navy, HMS for the British Navy and odd symbols for the Navy of Russia.

As Hardin recounted, Dr. and Mrs. L.T. Odland wrote a letter to the editor of the Hillsboro Press Gazette suggesting a name for an annual festival in Hillsboro. A Chamber of Commerce committee comprised of Hardin, chairman, Dave Fenstermaker and Richard VanZant, had been formed in early 1984 to pursue an annual festival sponsored by the chamber. The Odlands’ suggestion was “Festival of the Bells.”

The chamber committee proposed the festival officially, and it was accepted by the chamber board of directors as a project, with John Levo appointed as steering committee chairman. The steering comrnittee was formed with members: John Levo, chairman, Fenstermaker, Vanzant, Hardin, Nancy Haley, Susan Sharp, Dorothy Hodson, Jim Ferrell, Ron Hennison, Hobie Hill and Dave Meyers.

“It should be noted that general discussion in the community for years prompted a festival effort,” recalled Hardin, mentioning prior events such as “Old Fashion Days,” “Bicentennial,” and “175th” as inspirations.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.

This bell cast by the C.S. Bell Company is displayed in front of the Highland House Museum in Hillsboro.
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/05/web1_bell-highland-house-1.jpgThis bell cast by the C.S. Bell Company is displayed in front of the Highland House Museum in Hillsboro. Times-Gazette file photo
Discussions ongoing to determine future location

By Jeff Gilliland

[email protected]