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The History of The Wayne County Bell By Shelton Smith

Editor’s Note:

The Wayne County Commissioners agreed that Facilities Services would construct a transparent case to surround the Courthouse bell in order to prevent damage to it in the future. Former Wayne County Building and Grounds Superintendent Shelton Smith wrote a narrative describing the history of the Wayne County Courthouse bell located in the Courthouse arium:

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“Hello,” my name is Wayne and I am a bell. My life began when I was cast from molten steel in 1851, less than a century after America became the great nation we are today. I’ve lived a fascinating life. Here’s my story.

The Municipality of Goldsboro, North Carolina was incorporated on January 18, 1847, and shortly thereafter the newly elected Wayne County fathers decided a courthouse was needed in Goldsboro, which was the seat of our county’s government.

After purchasing 4 acres on which the courthouse was to be built, construction began and Wayne County’s first courthouse was completed in 1850. Around that time and in keeping with the traditions of that era, organizers decided a bell should grace the new courthouse, and after some searching, in 1851 I was purchased from the A. Meneely & Sons Company, an experienced bell foundry that had been in business in West Troy, New York since 1826.

In preparation for my arrival, county fathers constructed a wooden bell tower where I was to be mounted, and once I became a permanent resident of Wayne County, for the next 62 years I proudly served the citizens of Wayne County without fail.

But by 1912, the original courthouse was in pretty bad shape, so county leaders decided it should be torn down and a new courthouse built in its place. For the first time in my lifetime, I began to fear for my future, because I knew until a new courthouse was built, I simply had no place to go.

Well, thoughtful planners took good care of me, relocating me to the county health building where I stayed until construction of the new courthouse was completed in 1913. Shortly before the new courthouse doors opened for business, I was placed in a tower behind the new courthouse where I was happy and content and certain I had found a new and safe home forever.

Well, even an old bell knows nothing is forever, and in 1954, much to my surprise, Wayne County leaders decided the old “new” courthouse just wasn’t big enough, so they decided to build an annex, and once again I was in the way. Patiently I watched the new addition take shape and when it was completed, it contained offices, a jail, and even living quarters for the jailer. I was pleased but I began to feel a bit overlooked.

Lucky for me, that feeling didn’t last long because the brand new courthouse annex had a fascinating bit of new technology I had never seen before: an elevator. And with the new elevator came a tall elevator shaft with an equipment support building at the top on a flat roof that lent itself to some pretty decent storage space. In no time, I was relocated there, and boy did that make me

happy being up nice and high, where I could get a good look at our fine county and keep an eye on all of the important goings on.

So the year was 1954 when I was placed up on that roof, and in short order I once again began helping citizens understand exactly what was going on in our great county. You see, this was a time in our county’s history when the sheriff’s office was located in the courthouse and accessed from a first floor entrance on the building’s west side. In those days, the courthouse had no air conditioning, so windows in the sheriff’s office were often opened to allow for ventilation. In a manner typical of the ingenious men and women of our county’s sheriff’s office, a rope was tied to me and I began being rung each day to signal when court was in session and again at the end of the day when court had adjourned. I felt special, and I was making a difference.

At least that’s what I thought until 1990 when once again change reared its head in my neck of the woods. In 1990, to keep up with the tremendous growth of our county, our elected officials decided they needed to build a new courthouse annex. To an old bell, that news meant only one thing: the old annex had to come down, and once again in the 139 years since my casting in far off New York, my livelihood was threatened.

During development of the new courthouse annex plans, a very nice gentleman began showing up who seemed to take great interest in me. His name was Shelton Smith, and he was the Wayne County Building and Grounds Superintendent. Mr. Smith’s special interest in me seemed to strengthen with each passing day as he studied me and my surroundings, and he listened courteously as one person after another remarked about how much they would like to have me. I held my breath.

Well, after the new annex construction contract was awarded to a local Wayne County company by the name of T.A. Loving, crews soon arrived to begin demolition of the old courthouse annex. But before they started, Mr. Smith drove onto the site and directed a demolition crew foreman to load me into his truck with the help of a nearby backhoe.

I was dizzily whisked away on a short journey to Mr. Smith’s county warehouse, where I was unloaded and stored. Under the safe watchful eye of the buildings and grounds department, I was washed and cleaned, sanded and polished until I glowed with a nice bright clean finish. I enjoyed my time in the old warehouse awaiting construction of my new home, but I was troubled not knowing if, when, or where I would finally be moved. Wayne County was my home, and I just didn’t want to live anywhere else.

For me, relief came when I learned Mr. Smith had directed the architects designing the new courthouse annex to take special care creating two brick kiosks that would be visible on the right and left sides of the building’s expansive interior atrium. The news was fantastic. A new home for me was being specially built where I could grace one of those brick kiosks. Atop the other kiosk, a majestic clock would keep time and help me and the residents of Wayne County stay on schedule.

In November of 1994, just days before final completion of the new Wayne County Courthouse annex, Mr. Smith had me ever so carefully placed upon a thick comfortable rubber pad that was affixed to the top of my brick kiosk. It is here that I continue to live today. As an old bell now, my ringing days have long since expired, but I love greeting visitors each day from my home where my place in our wonderful county’s history is prominently secured. I sincerely hope I will be around for another eternity, in bell years of course!

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