At 117 years old, Frisco’s schoolhouse bell has been through a lot, including a kidnapping
July 24, 2017
Back in 1988, the now-defunct Ten Mile Times declared it a Christmas miracle when Frisco's schoolhouse bell was recovered after being missing for 12 years.
Dubbed the town's "most important artifact," the bell had been found neglected under a woodpile in Breckenridge, although the thieves' trail had been cold for years.
The bell is now at least 117 years old, and a recent inspection revealed that time and possibly its prolonged kidnapping have taken their toll. Town officials estimate it needs up to $30,000 in restoration work to fight rust and corrosion.
"It's not in poor condition," said Frisco Historic Park and Museum director Simone Belz. "There are no cracks, but it's very rusted. It just needs a facelift."
The issues came to light after an anonymous donor offered to pay for installing an automatic striker that would ring the bell once a day, most likely at noon.
Currently, the bell is only rung on special occasions, like the beginning of the Frisco BBQ Challenge or other commemorative events. The donor hopes that having it ring out every day would bring a little nostalgic flair to town.
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Before pitching the town council, however, officials looked at the bell to see if the roughly $10,000 striker could be installed. They determined that before bringing the bell back into regular use, it would need some refurbishing work.
"We're not opposed to ringing it but felt that we would be getting ahead of ourselves," Belz said. "What we need right now is to look at the restoration of the bell first."
The historic park is currently getting a more accurate cost estimate and will then look for bidders who could do the restoration. Then, the town council could choose among a variety of possible funding sources, including asking residents and visitors to pitch in through a fund drive.
Town council members said they are keen to preserve the bell, which has quite a curious history in Summit County.
Originally installed in a Breckenridge building in the 1880s, it was moved to Frisco in 1911. Apparently, however, some simmering resentments among Breckenridge locals bubbled over in 1975, when the 350-pound bell was stolen from the Frisco schoolhouse cupola.
The heist, suspected to have occurred some time in July or August, went unnoticed until Aug. 11, when superintendent James Beck was eating breakfast at the Log Cabin Café across the street and noticed the bell was gone.
The schoolhouse was undergoing a renovation at the time, and police suspected the thieves took advantage of scaffolding erected around the building. Scrape marks attributed to the bell could also be seen on the building's tiles.
Residents were left scratching their heads for years until 1987, when Breckenridge homeowners Jeff and Gail Stephans noticed a half-buried bell in their yard during the spring thaw.
Jeff used the bell as a wood bin for some time until a friend mentioned the story of the stolen bell, according to a display plaque in the Frisco Historic Museum.
Frisco police positively ID'ed the pilfered bell with the help of Reverend Mark Fiester, a local historian who had recorded its engravings years before.
"That was one of the most interesting investigations I ever did," recalled retired Frisco police officer Jim Walsh, who moved the bell back to Frisco in the bed of his pickup truck.
Firefighters used a ladder truck to get the long-neglected bell back up into the cupola, where Walsh and a couple of carpenters worked in near-zero temperatures to get it back in working order by Christmas Day.
"All of the sudden it was this mad rush to get it done," Walsh said. "We froze our butts off up there. It was a big task but we got it done."
One of Frisco's oldest cold cases, however, remains unsolved. The original police report was thin on details, and Walsh had no leads.
"We investigated," he said. "We didn't get the suspects but we got the bell."
As Walsh remembers it, the town of Frisco served up hot cider to the roughly 120 residents who gathered on Christmas Eve to hear the bell ring again just after 12:30 a.m.
With any luck it will continue to ring for years to come — but after a good polishing, first.
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