WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. — The Weathersfield School Board meeting Monday opened with a year-long mystery that proves to be ongoing.
In the fall of 2018, Ginger Wimberg, president of the Weathersfield Historical Society, received a phone call from Norman Stowell, the former principal of the Perkinsville School from 1974-1975, in regards to an antique school bell in his possession that he wanted to see returned to the school of origin.
According to Wimberg’s conversation with the retired principal, Stowell had thought the bell was from the Perkinsville School circa 1879.
“It was over in his son’s place of business, [so] Jim and I hopped in the car,” said Wimberg, as she recalled the first steps taken in the school bell’s retrieval.
Wimberg and her husband, Jim, located the school bell at a Claremont business owned by Stowell’s son.
They loaded the more than 75-pound bell into the trunk of their Toyota Camry and brought it home to Weathersfield. But at the time, Wimberg had no idea of the steeplechase she would embark on to authenticate the bell’s exact origin.
Just the transport of the bell was a delicate and heavy enterprise as it took two workmen on site to help load it into the Wimberg’s Camry.
“We pull out [after the bell was loaded] and right away all these lights are flashing on the dashboard, [car] bells are going off and I am going, ‘Oh no! Obviously we should have used a different vehicle for this,’ and Jim is not very happy about all this,” said Wimberg.
At the end of the day, both Ginger and Jim made it home safely with the school bell intact and in their possession.
“I was very relieved when we pulled into the driveway,” she said.
Then the research began. First question: where was this bell from?
“I traced it to the McShane Bell Foundry,” said Wimberg about the original manufacturer of church bells located in Glen Burnie, Maryland. “I couldn’t wait to get ahold of Matt Keniston and let him know, ‘I have your bell.’”
Wimberg made the call and proudly announced she had the bell to the schoolhouse.
Keniston paused and replied that they had the original bell for the Weathersfield Center School house he was currently renovating.
Wimberg continued sleuthing, researching records of property, old photos, cemetery records and the mystery for the time being continued. In total, she researched all 13 schoolhouses within the locale and came to one spot that had all the arrows of the mystery pointing at one particular building.
“It had to be the Ascutneyville Schoolhouse,” said Wimberg, who traced the site through the listers office. “It was on Cemetery Road. The building is still there. It’s the first house on the right.”
The site of the old Acutneyville Schoolhouse is across from exit 8 in what is now Ascutney.
According to records, Wimberg noted the name Acutneyville, formerly known as ‘the Corners’ circa 1700s, had been changed to Ascutney by a Colonel Wilgus, according to Wimberg’s painstaking research.
Wimberg noted another unique fact.
“Wilgus, the builder of Grand Central Station in New York City, lived in the town and thought Acutneyville sounded hickish so he changed it to what is now known as Ascutney,” said Wimberg.
She wanted to know how the bell got to the school and in research found that it was donated in early 1903 to the school by a Frank Whitcomb of Springfield, Massachusetts.
Her research of the Whitcomb name pointed to only one place: a cemetery.
In research of burial grounds she came across a cemetery in the township with one lone grave marked in the early 1850s of one Joseph S. Whitcomb. Wimberg found that the rest of the family burial plot was located in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“I surmised that Frank Whitcomb, after matching dates of birth was a few years older than Joseph Whitcomb and was most likely his older brother,” said Wimberg, who suspects that Frank donated the bell in his younger brother’s honor to the schoolhouse.
Wimberg matched the names and did some math.
“In 1903, Frank Whitcomb would have been in his 50s when he donated the bell and the steeple that housed it,” said Wimberg.
Ginger Wimberg presented the offering for the school bell to be transferred from possession of the Weathersfield Historical Society to be somehow installed in what is now the Weathersfield Elementary School for a ceremony in June where original students from the year Norman Stowell was principal would give it the first official ring.
“Stowell said he contacted me because he wanted the bell to be returned home where it belonged and dedicated to his former students,” said Wimberg.
School board passes budget
Also at the Weathersfield School Board meeting Monday members approved the 2020 budget by unanimous vote with an increase of $299,808 from last year.
This increase is in large part attributed to wages and special education.