Bell maker has good news for Mahanay Bell Tower

Tower is nearing 50th anniversary


Good news rang out of a conference call Thursday between the Greene County Board of Supervisors and a Cincinnati bell maker about the future of the Mahanay Bell Tower.

The tower will hold the weight of a 48-bell, four-octave carillon weighing upwards of 45,000 pounds, Tim Verdin, production manager of the Ohio-based Verdin Co., told supervisors.

But, more than that, an original cost estimate of $510,661 to upgrade the tower’s structural support was also likely way off, Verdin informed them.

“Something was amiss there,” he said.

After a fresh inspection, it appears there was significant overlap in the work proposed 20 years ago by Story Construction and the work proposed by Verdin.

“The answer was, yes, the tower will carry that load,” Verdin said. “It is not going to cost a half a million dollars to build a support structure to carry the bells.”

Verdin on Thursday proposed manufacturing, in Cincinnati, a new frame capable of holding 34 more bells than the 14-bell Jefferson tower currently has.

That frame would be hoisted by a crane and fit in the existing frame’s footprint, he said.

While it was officially dedicated on Oct. 16, 1966, as the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, the Mahanay tower isn’t technically a true carillon.

A true carillon requires at least 23 bells.

Anything less — like Greene County’s iconic 14-bell tower — is considered a chime.
While the real bells do, in fact, chime on the hour, quarter and half-hour, there aren’t enough of them to play actual music.

For that, a new digital music system replicates the sound of 61 cast bells and blasts them through speakers.

In its day, the bell tower was completed at a cost of $350,000.

Obtaining enough bells for a true carillon has been a longtime quest for Carole Custer, president of the Mahanay Bell Tower Community Foundation.

“The goal has always been to make it a true carillon,” she told The Jefferson Herald earlier this month. “After the tower has been in Greene County for 50 years, we should have it finished.”

Supervisors, on whose land the tower sits, seem receptive to fulfilling that wish.

“Everything you’ve laid out sounds great,” Supervisor John Muir told Verdin.

Verdin will work up a new cost estimate for supervisors, and the supervisors will proceed with conducting an updated structural analysis on the tower itself to see if anything’s changed in the 20 years since interest first was shown in upgrading the 168-foot local landmark.

“We need to know that whatever we do up there is safe,” Muir said.

The fabricated steel structure currently in place for the bells is showing signs of corrosion and hasn’t done the cast bells any favors, according to Verdin.

“Because the bells are in an environment that gets 24/7 elements ... because there’s no roof over it, it’s taken the full brunt of those elements,” he said.

One by one, the electrical strikers for individual bells have broken down, Verdin reported.

As a result, he said, technicians have robbed parts from other bells to keep the Westminster chime going for its timely reminders.

The tower’s new digital music system, installed in mid-December at a cost of about $16,000, has the capability to play any amount of real bells, Verdin said.

Verdin also reminded supervisors of the unique opportunity they have to make a true carillon out of the Mahanay tower.

There are only about 400 carillons in the entire world, he said.

“What you guys have is very rare,” he said.

The big bells — including a 4,700-pound C bell — are already in place, he said.

“You’ve got the potential of a big carillon,” he said.

An additional 15 upper-octave bells have long been purchased and remain inside the courthouse.

Verdin recommended installing those 15 additional bells with the new support structure.

“It would look like the frame is filling up,” he said. “That would be a good way to excite people.”

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