One of the oldest relics of Morgan history hangs in the Milton Park, standing as a symbol of history, freedom and the community.
A cast iron bell that has been part of our communal history for over 110 years is starting to show her age and is in need of repair. Hundreds of area residents are coming together to repair the symbol and gather together in Milton fashion—working and playing together.
The Milton Park will be overrun with Milton residents past and present at the second annual Milton Roundup on the 24th of July. A group of almost two dozen are involved in the planning stage of the event and working on restoring the bell and adding an historical monument.
The event is planned to preserve the bell, but just as important is the preserving of the history of the area and bringing the small community together. The event for all Milton area residents will begin at 5 p.m. with the grand entry and it will continue through the evening with horse events, games, potluck dinner, a dance and more.
This Milton icon hung atop the Old Red School House built in 1903, and has been a landmark and source of community pride since the early development of Milton, which was one of the first areas settled in our valley. The school house was located near where the LDS church in Milton now stands.
Over half a century ago the bell was a common sound and the children loved it. Bessie Peterson Thurston attended the Milton Schoolhouse and had fond memories of that time decades later.
“The janitor would ring that bell at 8:30 a.m. We could hear it loud and clear reminding us we had just a half hour until school time. If we were around early he would let us ring the bell, that is, if we could reach the rope,” Thurston said. “Sometimes it took two of us to do it. I wish we could hear it now, ringing out in the clear, crisp air.”
Thurston remembers how children would race to be the privileged one to ring the bell and often in haste, would even skip breakfast to be the first to the school. Ringing the hand bell at noon and recess was another pleasure of childhood for the children of that period of time. The bell echoed as the grounds rang with shouting and laughter in those days long ago.
Few of those school children who attended the Milton School are around, some having moved from the area and most have graduated life.
According to a news article by Linda H. Smith of the Morgan County Historical Society:
In searching family history, the bell has been one of the common stories that are told. In circa 1906, the community of Milton received its new school house. It was constructed of brick with a sandstone foundation. Not only did it have a bell tower, it also had other unique architectural features that made it one of the classiest schools in Morgan County.
Milton was one of the earliest communities in the county. At the time school precincts were consolidated into one school district in 1908, Milton was using its third school building. The school also accommodated students from Littleton and Stoddard. In 1925, all the eighth grade students were bused to classes at Morgan High School.
In 1936, the community schools were closed and--with the exception of Devil’s Slide--students were transported to the central campus at Morgan City.
Over 30 years later, school was still being held in Milton. Like many residents, Mack Peterson included information about the school he attended in his records. Peterson’s history includes memories of “the new brick school house just up the street” from where he lived. The children and adults were proud of the up-to-date indoor restrooms and the fact that their school even had a gym. On top of the school house hung a great big bell, the only one of its kind in Morgan County. After the school was torn down many years later, the bell disappeared. The bell was tracked down by Dee Haslam and Mack Peterson, who installed it at the Milton Park as part of the history of early Milton. In addition to placing the historic bell, they also erected a flagpole, which added to the community pride.
In addition to the bell, Bessie Peterson Thurston had many found memories of the old school house.
In her history she wrote: “We went to school in the Little Red School house. We had two rooms and of course two teachers. The rooms were called the big room and the little room. I think of the big bell on top of the school house. We were called in from recess and our noon hour by the teacher ringing a little hand bell. We lined up in front of the steps and marched in a quite orderly (usually) to our desks.”
There are many more stories told and yet to be shared about the school house.
Information in this article was also taken from a May 15, 1964, article by Barbara Rhodes in The Morgan County News.