Frieda Files

Ring Those Bells!

Frieda’s Files are a collection of historical short stories about Carson Valley by Frieda Cordes Godecke, published in The Record-Courier. Reproduced here with permission from the Cordes Cousins, and their book “Frieda’s Files”.

August 18, 1977: Ring those bells!

Genoa has a tradition all its own. Each fourth day of July, Genoa historian Arnold Trimmer treks up to the old Court House (now the Carson Valley museum), takes an old time bell out of hiding and, ringing it loudly and clearly, tells the townspeople that once again it is time to pause a few moments to reflect on all the blessings of our beloved country.

Keeping with the tradition set by Arnold Trimmer, Billie Rightmire rang the historic school bell now housed at the Courthouse Museum in Genoa. Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society 2019.

Away back in the 1860s, a little white public schoolhouse came into being in the canyon above the Court House in Genoa. An essential part of the necessary equipment of every early day school was the bell by which the teacher summoned her children to classes each morning.

The little white schoolhouse has long been abandoned, but the bell with its message will remain tradition in Genoa for many years to come.

Mrs. Elizabeth Crouse of Genoa is the proud owner of the bell from the two-room, sagebrush-surrounded Mottsville School, which was also one of the oldest schools in the valley.

Most of the bells used in the one-room schoolhouses were hand bells made of brass and attached to a wooden handle. As the teacher stood on the steps and rang the bell, the sound could be heard as far as a mile away. Whether you were chasing jack rabbits in the sagebrush or pulling polliwogs out of the mud in a nearby pond, when you heard the bell ring, you stopped what you were doing and headed for the schoolhouse-if you knew what was good for you.

Is there anything more pleasing to the ear than the lovely tones of an old church bell on a clear, quiet Sunday morning?

Three such bells have rung out their messages to the people of Carson Valley for many, many years.

The Carson Valley Methodist Church, an early English Gothic structure, was built on the south end of Gardnerville in 1896. No doubt the bell became part of the church upon its completion. When the new Methodist Church was built between Gardnerville and Minden in 1951, the bell was taken there and still functions every service.

Although the first Lutheran church which was built along the banks of the Carson River south of Gardnerville was ready for occupancy in 1895, funds were not immediately available for a bell, and it was not until 1899 that one was purchased in San Francisco for the sum of $65. Records have it that William Lampe, secretary of the congregation, drove to Carson City with a springwagon to claim the bell which had been sent there to the freight office. On the return trip all went well until he was a short distance from Gardnerville, near the site of the present lumber yard. Suddenly the horses became frightened and lunged forward, dumping the big bell on the ground. It was feared that the precious bell had been damaged, but the ensuing years proved that it bore no scar of its entry into Carson Valley. It now has its place in the belfry of the new Lutheran church in Gardnerville.

The Coventry Cross Episcopal church in Minden was moved to its present location from neighboring Smith Valley in 1953. The same bell that called the people to worship in Smith Valley for many, many years now rings each Sunday for its parishioners in Carson Valley.

The Catholic Church has no bell.

Fire bell
THIS OLD BELL has been a part of the Gardnerville Fire Department since 1897. It was brought into the Valley from Virginia City and hose has a place of honor above the entrance to the new Gardnerville Fire Station.

Frank Yparraguirre tells us that the old pumper that was originally a part of the Gardnerville Fire Department was purchased in 1897, and he assumes that the fire bell which was brought in from Virginia City was purchased about that time also. The first fire house still stands near the ball park in Gardnerville. Fire sirens were unheard of at that time, and the bell was the means of summoning all volunteers to duty. The old bell now has a place of honor above the entrance to the new Gardnerville Fire Station.

The Minden Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1912 with William Wennhold as fire chief. A large bell from a Carson Valley farm was used by the volunteers for many years. The Minden Fire Department became the Douglas County Fire Department in 1927. In February of this year, the Department celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the bell was used for the last time. Now it is a pleasure to see and hear it when it is part of the department’s entry in the annual Carson Valley Days parade. {Note, this story was written in 1977}

During the first four or five decades of this century before farm work became as mechanized as it is today, a dinner bell topped a post or building near the kitchen on most farms and ranches in the Valley. It was the cook’s means of saying, “Come and get it!” to hungry hay hands, threshing crews, and all farm hands in general.

If you happened to live in or near Gardnerville, you heard the farm bells in the area-the Settelmeyers, the Parks, the Jacobsens, the Lampes, Hellwinkles, and others. If you lived on the south end of the Valley, there were the bells on the Dressler, Gansberg, Bassman, Scossa, and other farms. Near Centerville you heard the Heise, Leo Springmeyer, Christensen bells, and more. In and around Minden were the bells on the Dangberg ranches at Buckeye, the Sheep Camp, and Klauber ranches. The bell on the Dreyer ranch was probably in use when Hank Martin operated the ranch long before 1900.

The bell on the Duane Mack ranch, which still hangs above the cook house, was formerly the bell used at the little green school house in Minden 60 and more years ago.

Chinese cooks who were employed on most of the larger ranches were very punctual in ringing their bells at exactly 6 a.m., 12 noon, and 6 p.m.-so punctual in fact that one could safely set a watch or clock to their timing.

The ringing of so many bells at one time also provided a musical background for a medley of all the howling dogs in the neighborhood.

Dinner bells were also used to call guests to the plush dining rooms at the Raycraft Hotel in Genoa, Walley Hot Springs, and the Ritchford Hotel in Gardnerville. Most other hotels used gongs to assemble their guests.

As if to say “Folks, gather round, here I come,” the handsome brass bell atop the steam engine on the V & T proudly announced the arrival of the train in Minden each morning at 11 a.m. Needless to say, there were always “folks” on hand for that greeting.

On the farm, whether the dairy herd was grazing in a meadow or resting in the shade of willow trees along the banks of a stream, there was never any problem in finding old Bossy and the rest of the herd. A copper bell usually dangled from a strap around the neck of Bossy, and she led the herd along the narrow cow path to the barn for the evening milking.

A band of sheep, many with bells about their necks, and a burro with a larger bell to lead them, has always been a pleasant sight, scattered in the sagebrush or just feeding on an alfalfa field.

There were bells and bells and bells, from those on the collars of the ten to twenty horse or mule teams going back and forth to the early mining and lumber camps, to the little round door bells that needed just half a twist to tell the folks inside you were waiting on the door step.

Then last but not least, there are those of us who can pleasantly recall the jingling sleigh bells on old Dobbin as he deftly glided the sleigh runners across the snow while we snuggled under the lap robe on a cold, crisp winter day and enjoyed the tinkling of the sleigh bells.



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