The Durfee Bells -
A new Wrinkle
by: Les Cory ‘56
The Durfee Bells are all installed and ringing in the tower at Durfee High but there is some uncertainty about their future.
The city of Fall River is poised to build a new high school on the Elsbree Street campus. The new building will be sited between the athletic field and Elsbree Street where the main parking lot is now. A portion of the building will overlay the site of the bell tower and Pathway of Memories.
The proposed building will incorporate a steeple and belfry which presumably will become the new home for the bells and for the eight foot diameter tower clocks given in memory of Janice Curry. The Building Committee has offered to move all of the bricks and benches from the existing walkway to a place of prominence in a new walkway in front of the proposed building. This new walkway will have room for expansion and will provide an opportunity for graduates and friends of Durfee High School to place additional bricks.
The 4 foot wide playing keyboard, called a clavier, will be relocated to one of the upper floors in the new belfry directly below the bells in much the same arrangement as existed in the original high school building on Rock Street. This will enable the playing of the bells by hand as they were played in the old Durfee High belfry for nearly 100 years. The bells will be played by pressing down on batons on the clavier, similar in size to an axe handles, which, through an arrangement of cables and pulleys, will pull clappers against the inside of the bells causing them to ring. The bells are played now by means of external strikers that are controlled by a computer. The last time the bells were played by hand by Durfee High students was in 1978.
Relocating the bells to the new building will involve the installation of new pulleys and cables. The electronics will be updated in the bell controller and a new GPS system will be added to ensure the accuracy of the clocks and the striking of the time by the bells
A second clavier for practice was fabricated by a team of engineering students at UMass Dartmouth. This practice clavier has the look and feel of the real one but it was designed for classroom use and its bells are simulated rather than real. Music played on the practice clavier can be recorded on a flash drive that can be loaded on the computer that controls the real bells. Music originating in the classroom can be programmed to play the real bells at any day and time selected by the chime master.
The student project included the design and installation of a radio link between the announcer’s booth at the football field and the striker on the 3,000 pound tenor bell. A Durfee touchdown or other achievement can be celebrated by the ringing of the biggest bell at the touch of a button.
Pending a decision on what is to become of the existing bell tower, a number of items on the “to-do” list have been put on hold. These include waterproofing of the tower at the clavier level, installation of additional tower lighting at the bell level and design and fabrication of decorative surrounds at the clock level.
Engraved bricks honoring Durfee graduates and friends are no longer being installed in the “old” memorial walkway leading to the bell tower. Bricks ordered after summer 2017 are being held for installation in the new walkway. Donations to help in the ongoing maintenance of the bells would be much appreciated. Checks payable to “Durfee Bells” may be sent to PO Box 9235, Fall River, MA 02720. For more information, please contact Les Cory [email protected] or any member of the Bells Committee.