Bell Tower named Iowa’s top tourist attraction
A new policy approved Monday by the Greene County board of supervisors will bring live and recorded music back to the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower after months of silence — and not a moment too soon.
The tower on Wednesday was named rural Iowa’s most outstanding attraction by the Iowa Tourism Office and the Travel Federation of Iowa at the 2021 Iowa Tourism Awards.
Awards are divided into metro and rural distinctions.
Jefferson Matters: A Main Street & Chamber Community also won the rural award for outstanding promotional material.
Completed in 1966, the tower — 168 feet and two inches in height — has been on a slow journey toward widespread acceptance.
Originally, according to a 1964 editorial in the Jefferson Herald, residents viewed Floyd Mahanay’s bequest as a “bizarre gift with little, if any, public benefit.”
And for the first 50 years, it clung to a dirty secret: It wasn’t actually capable of playing music.
It was, in fact, a carillon in name only.
With only 14 bells, it technically was classified as a chime. Basically, with all due respect, the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower was a glorified doorbell.
The music that emanated from the tower for a generation — chiming renditions of everything from hymns to “Penny Lane” — wasn’t real. They were recordings of bells, blasted out over town through speakers.
A carillon capable of playing music needs at least 23 bells.
But that all changed in 2017.
A campaign that started clear back in 1986 to add bells to the tower ended on a happy note with the unveiling of the current, four-octave, 47-bell carillon.
The Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower is at last a true carillon — one of only four in the state of Iowa, along with Iowa State University’s famous, 50-bell carillon, a 47-bell carillon at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and a 25-bell carillon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Des Moines.
The tower season officially opens May 1, with weekend hours only until Memorial Day, then daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.