Treasure Patch: Ringing True
The original school bell still tolls on top of Somerset Elementary School in Mendota Heights.
Editor's note: "Treasure Patch" is a monthly feature that explores the objects in the community that make our everyday adventures a bit more special. To submit an idea for The Treasure Patch, email Local Editor Danielle Cabot at email@example.com or leave Patch a note in the comment field with this story.
When Somerset Elementary School opened in Mendota Heights in 1936 a school bell rang every day to summon local children to class. That very bell still hangs in the white tower on top of the original school building.
And the bell still rings at Somerset. On the first day of school every year, the entire K-4 grade population gathers outside for an assembly and to hear the bell ring.
The last day of school is even more special for the fourth graders: In honor of their graduation from Somerset, each child gets can pull on the old school bell rope.
"They have literally been waiting for five years for the chance to do that, and they love it," said principal Mary Bowman. "We cheer for every one of them when they take their turn."
The white bell tower sits perched on top of what was originally Somerset's two- room school house—Bowman said she believes it is the oldest school building still actively used in the state of Minnesota. School offices and the kindergarten rooms are located in this section.
The bell tower is painted every couple of years to keep it looking fresh; No part of the bell, including the clapper, has ever needed replacing.
"It is a pretty fragile structure at this point," said Bowman, adding that the custodian is able to climb into the bell tower. "We try to take good care of it."
When asked if any birds or critters have ever made a home in the bell tower, Bowman laughed and said. "No—we've never had bats in our belfry."
Having such a visible piece of history as part of their modern school has become a point of pride for Somerset staff and scholars.
"The white bell tower and our school bell are very special to us," said Bowman.